COLUMBIA - Gov. Mark Sanford is expected back on the job today after a five-day disappearing act that continues to fuel a media and political firestorm.

Late Tuesday, details about the governor's absence remained scarce. Despite the national attention, Sanford had yet to make a public appearance or talk to reporters.

In cryptic e-mails, his staff said Sanford was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but refused to say where on the trail and why so few people were made aware of his plans.

Also missing in action were officials with the State Law Enforcement Division, who declined to discuss why they left Sanford without a security detail and whether it was appropriate for the governor to use a state-owned vehicle for a personal trip.

Few argue that a governor deserves a little R&R, but his absence left many questions unanswered: Why did the governor leave without telling his wife, the state's top law enforcement officer or the lieutenant governor where he was going?

What exactly was he doing? And how would the state have handled an emergency should one have arisen while he was away and out of touch?

Black SUV

The saga began Thursday in Columbia, with temperatures topping 90 degrees, a fitting atmosphere for the end of another heated political season.

Two days before, state legislators dealt Sanford a political blow by overturning all 10 of his vetoes. That came after Sanford made national headlines when he tried unsuccessfully to turn down $700 million in federal stimulus money.

Sometime on Thursday, Sanford dismissed his security detail and left the governor's mansion in a black Suburban sport-utility vehicle assigned to SLED. It's unclear where he went next.

Sanford has over the years positioned himself as the anti-politician — a businessman in favor of limited government who was unafraid to take unpopular stands. After he was elected to Congress in 1994, he slept on a cot in his office to save money.

He voted against naming the Ronald Reagan International Airport after the former president because "the airport already had a name."

While Sanford gained attention for these and other exploits, he also enjoyed solitary sports, such as windsurfing and running. His wife, Jenny, said he sometimes liked to collect himself at the family farm near Beaufort.

But Sanford apparently went in a different direction Thursday, toward Georgia.

After that, the governor's state and personal phones went dead.

Growing concern

Jake Knotts, a Republican senator from West Columbia spent 30 years in law enforcement. Those in that line of work tend to be a tight group, and Knotts said he heard Friday about Sanford's departure.

Knotts said he didn't think much about the governor's actions at first, but he grew more concerned Saturday.

About 5 p.m. that day, while headed to a wedding, he phoned SLED chief Reggie Lloyd. Lloyd told him he didn't know where the governor was, and that he was concerned about the state's command structure in an emergency.

Knotts has been a frequent critic of Sanford over the years, but he said he was concerned about Sanford's state of mind given the tense battles over federal stimulus money and the Legislature's vetoes.

Knotts checked again with Lloyd on Sunday. On Monday, Knotts was told by a law enforcement source that the last contact with Sanford's cell phone was in Atlanta. Knotts said SLED told the governor's office to "quit looking for him. He's ok."

Governor 'AWOL'

By Monday afternoon, the news was everywhere: The governor of South Carolina was missing. Not even his wife could explain where her husband was.

At the family's beachfront home on Sullivan's Island, she said he took off to clear his head, to work "on a writing project," and that he had done something like this before.

With their boys in the background, she noted that he had missed Father's Day.

In Columbia, Joel Sawyer, Sanford's press secretary, also had difficulty answering questions. Earlier that day, the governor's chief of staff, Scott English, told the lieutenant governor's office they knew where Sanford was, and that he was safe.

That might not have been the case. Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said when he demanded that the governor call him Monday afternoon, the governor's staff told him they still didn't know where he was.

Bauer said he found the whole thing strange and disturbing, since he would be the one to take over the governor's powers in Sanford's absence.

A media storm can form in such a vacuum of information, and as the day wore on the governor's absence became an international story.

"AWOL South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has entire state in a tizzy," said the headline in the New York Daily News.

"Case of walkabout South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford grips US," an Australian paper said.

Then, at 10:01 p.m. Monday, Sawyer e-mailed reporters an update: "The governor is hiking along the Appalachian Trail. I apologize for taking so long to send this update, and was waiting to see if a more definitive idea of what part of the Trail he was on before we did so."

Sawyer added: "I want to emphasize that this isn't something that either staff or Mrs. Sanford is concerned about.

"As we said earlier today, it isn't unusual for the governor to be out of pocket for several days after the legislative session. ... Given the media attention this has generated, we'll obviously update you once we have some more specifics to pass along."

A day later, Sawyer still couldn't explain where Sanford was and where on the trail he hiked. He did tell reporters that the governor would be back at work today.

The backlash

Tuesday, officials across the state weighed in.

Former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges said the SLED detail was like family. "Their job is to be with you at all times to keep you in contact, not only for your safety but as a lifeline to other government officials in the event there were problems."

Hodges, who lost his re- election bid to Sanford, added, "You never know when a crisis is going to strike the state or the country; you can't afford to be out of touch when that happens."

Some lawmakers blasted the governor for creating a possible security problem. "The governor's actions are irresponsible and unacceptable," House Minority Leader Harry Ott of St. Matthews said.

"When your wife and family don't know where you are, that's really strange," added Sen. John Land of Manning, the Senate's top Democrat.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, a Charleston Republican, said he would introduce legislation mandating security details be present with the governor at all times. The continual possibility of an emergency leaves too great a risk, he said.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said he hopes Sanford has a good explanation.

"If a governor is going to go off by himself where he cannot be reached and without his security, then he should have to transfer that authority during that period of time," Harrell said. "But the real answer is a governor shouldn't do those things."

Constitution vague

Nothing in the state constitution requires the governor to announce his travel plans, or even to declare when he is out of state.

In fact, beyond the line of succession, the constitution is vague on many of the movements surrounding the governor, though it does allow for the lieutenant governor to take over in the governor's absence during an emergency.

Article 4, Section 11 covers only the "removal of the Governor from office by impeachment, death, resignation, disqualification, disability, or removal from the State, (that) the Lieutenant Governor shall be Governor."

It reads that "In the case of the temporary disability of the Governor and in the event of the temporary absence of the Governor from the State, the Lieutenant Governor shall have full authority to act in an emergency."

Temporary absence and temporary disability are not defined further.

An attorney general's opinion from the 1970s concluded that the lieutenant governor possesses authority to extradite prisoners in the governor's absence. The lieutenant governor can determine when an emergency exists, it said.

A LOOK AT ODD BEHAVIOR BY U.S. GOVERNORS

South Carolina's chief executive isn't the first to earn headlines for acting odd. A look at governors' unusual behavior:

EARL LONG; GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA, 1939-1940, 1948-1952, 1956-1960: Long had an affair with a stripper, Blaze Starr. In 1959, Earl got into arguments with legislators at the State House and his wife at the mansion. He was committed to the State Hospital for the Insane but released after using his authority as governor. He removed the hospital director and replaced him with a doctor who was his ally.

JIMMIE DAVIS; LOUISIANA GOVERNOR, 1944-1948 and 1960-1964: Well known as the "Singing Governor," Davis gained international fame with his version of the song "You Are My Sunshine." Even while serving as governor, he kept his hand in show business and set a record for absenteeism during his first term with trips to Hollywood to make Western "horse operas."

LESTER MADDOX; GEORGIA GOVERNOR, 1967-1971: Maddox was known for quaint sayings, such as calling constituents "little people," and outrageous gestures such as riding a bicycle backward.

JESSE VENTURA; MINNESOTA GOVERNOR, 1999-2003: Ventura traded his pinstriped suits for referee stripes when he took part in a WWE "SummerSlam" event in Minneapolis. Later in his term, he moonlighted as a football commentator for the failed XFL. He also tried to make Capitol reporters wear press credentials dubbing them "Jackals."

ROD BLAGOJEVICH; ILLINOIS GOVERNOR, 2003-2009: After his ouster from office, Blagojevich joined the Second City comedy troupe for a performance of its show "Rod Blagojevich Superstar." He also planned to appear on NBC's "I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!" until a judge ruled that he couldn't leave the country while awaiting trial on federal corruption charges.

ELIOT SPITZER; NEW YORK GOVERNOR, 2007-2008: Elected on an anti-corruption platform, Spitzer resigned after becoming embroiled in an investigation into a high-end prostitution ring. Referred to in court papers as "Client-9," Spitzer spent tens of thousands of dollars to arrange visits with prostitutes, law enforcement officials said. Prosecutors ultimately declined to file criminal charges.