An Ethics Commission investigation is underway into Governor Sanford’s travel expenses. Sanford has said that he has used air travel far less than previous administrations.
For a perspective on air travel by state officials, we talked with Sumter Senator Phil Leventis. Leventis is a licensed pilot as well as a jet pilot with the air force reserves, and says he uses the state plane as much as any other state lawmaker. Leventis says he makes between two and four air trips each year, while on development business for Sumter or Lee Counties, or business related to Shaw Air force Base, located in Sumter County.
First of all, Leventis asserts that, regardless of the Sanford controversy, the state plane is a tremendous asset and
should be used. “I think the public has every right to ask about the appropriateness of the use. Having said that, I’ll tell you that I’ve been flying myself as a pilot for over 40 years. I’ve spent my own money and my company’s money flying and I think it’s a tremendous asset for the state. The primary porpose of the state airplane has been economic development and it has been highly important in that regard.”
A major issue with Sanford’s air travel has been his taking business-class trips to Europe when he was required by law to travel economy or tourist class.
Leventis is a leading Democrat in the Senate and has often been opposed to Sanford’s positions. While Leventis would not go so far as to say that state law should be changed, he is sympathetic with any Governor’s need to be comfortable during cross-Atlantic business trips. “I mean, that is the Chief Executive of our state. I don’t know many chief executives of multi-billion dollar corporations who save a few dollars traveling tourist class. But the question is where are they going and what are they doing.”
Leventis says security concerns are also a consideration. Governor’s travel with a security detail.
Sanford has said that while flying 6 or 7 hours to Europe for a business trip the same day as his flight, he wanted to be well rested prior to important meetings upon which depended multi-million dollar investments and the welfare of the state.
Leventis says he knows from his experience with his private business as well as the state that business trips can be exhausting. “When you hit the ground and you hit the ground running, when you headed home is the only time you can rest. I’ve been over to Tiawan on an exchange program. That was paid for by the Tiawanese government. We stayed a week and when I got home I had to rest. That’s the way most business trips are. So I’m not going to be judgemental. I’m going to look at each individual one.”
Sanford’s administration led the way in getting rid of the state’s interest in a lear jet and instead
purchasing a much less expensive airplane, a King Air 350. Leventis is pleased with the airplane, which seats eight passengers and two crew members. He says it can travel to distances across country, to Washington DC in one hour-25 minutes, and easily as far west as Texas. Leventis says the jet’s top speed was up to 425 miles per hour, but the King Air can travel 325, and cost much less to purchase and operate. He says it’s the perfect way to get to Moultrie, Georgia, home of the Southern Agricultural Expo.