Keith Richards once characterized his relationship with Mick Jagger like this: “The only things Mick and I disagree about is the band, the music, and what we do.” The volatile nature of their relationship has been as much fuel for The Rolling Stones as the talent that each brings to the band. Mick Jagger, with all his production of performance, has carefully calculated his and the band’s image since the 1960s. Richards, the malcontent who shoots from the hip without aiming, typically hitting the target – even if it’s Jagger. Yet for five decades, they have made it work, becoming one of the most enduring and influential bands in history. Early in their careers, they came up with a pseudonym, The Glimmer Twins, for their writing and producing credits after a vacation together.
My relationship with Mark Sanford bore an uncanny resemblance to Jagger and Richards, the image-concious frontman and the moody wildcard. As the brand creator, he wanted to make sure that everyone on the team understood and adhered to the brand. This was, at times, done to the point of tedium and micromanagement – which, in my view, was most of the time. I was the movement guy, placing each debate within the context of the “perpetual struggle,” with a variety of theatrical embellishments to create chaos where necessary. I was basically the guerilla wing of the Sanford team. We drove each other crazy, something I readily admit, and he would probably deny. There were two occasions, almost nine years apart, that drive this point home. Both occasions involve me being blindsided with a promotion.
Beggars Banquet – Washington 1999
In the fall of 1998, Sanford’s long-time Legislative Director announced he would be leaving to join a think tank. Having been on the staff for two years, I thought I would be the ideal candidate for the job. I talked with our Chief of Staff, and she took it to Sanford. One day, I got a call that Sanford wanted to discuss the position with me in his office. I walked in and was prepared to make the sales pitch, but before I could sit down:
“Uh, April told me you want to be the LD. You’re a smart guy, but you’re not really organized, you don’t look beyond the 30-day range, and we have to make a plan for the last session, and I don’t think you’re up to it. So, sorry, but it ain’t happening.”
There it was. I’d been weighed, measured, and found wanting before I even had a chance to make my case.
I walked out, angry, and called the Chief in Charleston, “You have a week. I want a $7,000 pay raise and a promotion to Senior Legislative Assistant or I’m gone.” There was no plan, no job options and a third child on the way, but I was pissed and there was no debating it. Admittedly, I reminded her every morning. Without negotiation or discussion, she called me on the seventh day and pronounced success. My mini-crisis was averted.
Over the next four months, we would have not one, but two, Legislative Directors. Both were incredibly nice guys and completely unwise to the ways of Mark Sanford. Some would say that was two strikes against them. With the imminent departure of our second Legislative Director at the end of January, Sanford came back to the pit one night. He let me know that our LD was leaving. I pulled out a giant stack of resumes and said, “Good luck.”
“I already have the candidate. You.”
I panicked. We’d been down this road and now, two LDs later, the reality of losing my job became too real.
“No thanks. I have a child on the way and you’ve already told me how incompetent I am. Nothing could have changed in four months.”
“We’ll be fine. It’ll be great.”
We went back and forth like this for five minutes. Here’s a personal note; I had a habit of throwing Sanford’s words back at him, time and time again. Often to the point of personal discomfort for everyone, but me.
Finally, he just said, “Show up tomorrow to be LD or clean out your desk. Just pick one.” Checkmate.
We had a good session – very aggressive, and we put together an awesome team for a departing member of Congress. I still miss those days in “The Legislative Pit” debating issues and “fighting the struggle” as we called it. I learned a lot in that role, and I’m grateful to have the chance. Sanford learned one thing, too. Asking me to do something I don’t want to do is a terrible idea.
Dirty Work – Columbia 2008
In February 2008, our Chief of Staff, Tom Davis, decided to leave the Governor’s Office to run for the South Carolina Senate in his hometown of Beaufort. Tom and I had a pretty agreeable narrative; he was the likable ideological warrior evangelizing the message, and I was the hammer who earned nicknames like “Mr. No.” When he decided to leave, it meant having to either find a new “good cop” or risk upsetting a balance that seemed to work well.
With the news of Tom’s departure, I started developing a list of possible candidates for Chief of Staff. My hope was to cut off another notorious “Sanford hire” that Mark thought deserved a chance to fail and then usually delivered in short order. I had ten candidates, all ranked on pros and cons with two good recommendations – or so I thought.
With my list in hand, I tried getting Sanford to talk by phone until he finally told me we’d discuss when he got to the office. When he arrived in the afternoon, he breezed through the door and asked the scheduler to get the staff together in his office.
We gathered, and I took a seat in the back and opened my notebook. I habitually carried a notebook into our meetings, so I could pretend to take notes. It was a ploy to choose when I would actually engage in the meeting rather than look like I was waiting to be called on.
“As you all know, Tom’s leaving us to run for the Senate. I’ll be visiting down there to help as much as I can, and it will be nice to have another ally in the Senate.”
Considering we could count on six senators, he was wrestling the obvious to the ground.
“That means we’re going to need a new Chief of Staff, and Scott’s going to take on that role.”
Just like that, I felt 20 heads turn in my direction as I was scribbling in my notebook, pretending to take notes. I looked up and said with all the confidence I could muster, “What?”
“You’re going to take on the Chief of Staff role and we’ll keep moving forward.”
“Oh. Okay.” What in hell did he just say!?
Whatever else he said after that was a blur to me since I was processing the fact that he’d just named me Chief of Staff in front of everyone. When the meeting was over, the staff filed out. I walked to his desk and pulled out my list of candidates and slid it in front of him.
“That’s the list of candidates for Chief of Staff I wanted to go over with you.”
Without even looking at me, he slid it back to me and said, “I don’t need this.”
“Look at it, Mark.”
He picks up the paper and looks at the list and then sticks it out for me to take.
“What do you see on that list?”
“What’s the point, Scott?”
“Did you see my name on the list?”
He looks again and says, “No, why?”
“Because I don’t want the job. I’m the designated bad guy here. No one really wants to deal with that guy.”
“It’s no big deal. You know me, and it’ll be fine.” He was really right and really wrong at the same time.
“You know, it’s usually customary to ask the guy you want to be Chief of Staff if he wants the job.”
“Well what would you’ve said if I did.”
“No. Probably ‘Hell No!’, but definitely no.”
He smiles and says, “Well, I’m glad I didn’t ask.”
In the rearview, it was either an act of desperation or a nudge toward helping me grow. I waver on which it was depending on the day. My best guess is that Sanford didn’t want to break in someone new, so he picked the obvious choice among those who knew him best. The next three years would be full of challenges, and from that I learned a great deal. It also solidified the Jagger/Richards relationship that we’ve had for twenty years now.