Rep.-elect Mark Sanford (R) on Wednesday settled a trespassing case with his ex-wife, sparing him the embarrassment of a court appearance fresh on the heels of his House election victory.
The former South Carolina governor won a special election for an open House seat on Tuesday by a comfortable margin over Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch.
Sanford had been due in court on Thursday to face allegations from his ex-wife, Jenny, that he repeatedly trespassed at her Sullivan Island, S.C., home.
The visits included one in early February, when Sanford said he went to the home to watch the Super Bowl with his son.
According to Charleston’s ABC-TV affiliate, court documents show Sanford agreed to pay $5,000 to cover his ex-wife’s court fees and admitted he was in contempt of court for trespassing.
The scheduled court appearance could have proven a distraction for the newly minted congressman, attracting more unwanted publicity to his troubled marital history.
Sanford divorced in 2009 after admitting to having an affair with an Argentinian woman he’s now marrying.
While Sanford has avoided a court hearing, many House Republicans worry that the disgraced politician will create other headaches for the GOP.
His outspoken fiscal conservatism and stubborn, lone-wolf personal style has antagonized party leaders both in Washington and South Carolina over the years. And after completing his political comeback without any financial support from House Republican leaders, he owes them nothing.
A number of House Republicans expressed concern about Sanford’s return.
One lawmaker, who served six years with Sanford during his first stint in Congress in the mid-1990s, said the ex-governor’s personality could rub fellow members of the House the wrong way.
“He just thought he was better than everyone else,” said the lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“He’s going to be awful here — he’s going to come back more arrogant than when he left.”
Sanford sought to downplay any tensions with House leadership in Wednesday television appearances.
“I would say yesterday is yesterday and today is today, and I look forward to working with them,” Sanford told CBS.
But one of Sanford’s closest allies, South Carolina state Sen. Tom Davis (R), made clear his feelings about how his friend was treated by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which refused to spend on the race.
“Sorry, NRCC. We won anyway,” Davis tweeted after Sanford won.
“It was remarkable to me a couple weeks ago, at a time where we’re down into the stretch, they very visibly pull out their support and money and tell him ‘go on and fend for yourself,’” Davis told The Hill. “That says to me a lot about the direction of the Republican Party.”
Sanford is remembered for being a thorn in the side of GOP leadership during his first stint in Congress.
He made it clear in his Tuesday night victory speech that he wasn’t returning to Washington to make friends.
He said voters had sent a “message to Washington, D.C., and a messenger to Washington, D.C., on the importance on changing things in that fair city.”
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke with Sanford on Wednesday afternoon, according to a leadership aide who would not release details of the conversation.
While Sanford might not be a favorite of House Republicans, he could be around for a long time.
The strength of his victory over Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert, under trying circumstances shows the difficulty Democrats will have challenging him in 2014.
And while he might face primary opposition next election, the longer he’s in office, the more voter resentment about his past could fade.
“They’re not going to mount a successful campaign to unseat him at this point,” said GOP strategist Hogan Gidley, who was an adviser to one of Sanford’s GOP primary opponents.
“You’ll have to be very careful in how you take on someone who has this lore about his resurgence. ... There’ll always be an anti-Sanford group, but it’ll begin to shrink exponentially over the next six months.”
Former Charleston County Councilman Curtis Bostic (R), whom Sanford defeated by about 10 points in his primary runoff election, told The Hill he would consider another bid.
“Sure, I’m interested in this seat. I want to see how this office plays out, how Mark administers this office and how things develop,” Bostic said.
Katon Dawson, a former chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, said Sanford “will have that House seat for as long as he wants it.”
“Somebody will primary him, but they’d better look at what just happened [in the election]. Policy trumps personal indiscretions,” Dawson said.
“Not enough people were upset with it to keep him out of Congress.”