Republicans Mark Sanford and Curtis Bostic agree on many issues — the need to reduce spending, support the military and limit the federal government’s reach into daily life.
Their life stories even share a common thread — the extraordinary influence of their fathers during both good times and bad.
Despite the similarities, though, they arrived at their values and beliefs on very different paths long before they entered politics.
Today the two Republican 1st Congressional District hopefuls are sprinting toward their April 2 runoff, with the winner facing Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a special election May 7. As they vie for that GOP spot on the ballot, their positions — and who they are as candidates — can be traced in part to what they learned in their early lives.
Sanford grew up in southern Florida. His father, Marshall C. Sanford Sr., was a successful cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore before moving his family to southern Florida.
The elder Sanford, who grew up in the Depression, also bought 3,000 acres on Chisolm Island in Beaufort County and began to raise cattle, corn, wheat and soybeans there.
The family spent their childhood vacations and holidays in South Carolina, helping out on the farm.
Sanford recalls baling hay as a thunderstorm approached, he and his siblings anxious about whether they could finish before the rain.
“We were convinced our next meal was dependent on whether we got that last bale of hay,” he said. “We weren’t poor, but he made us think we were.”
The hard work also included days spent left alone, with nothing but a packed lunch, a thermos of ice water, a tractor, a bush hog and dozens of acres of grass to cut. His father was instilling in him a work ethic, but also giving him a lot of freedom, as the young Sanford essentially was left alone all day.
Sanford’s life in Florida was more normal, and his father attended all of Mark’s cross-country meets. Sanford finished 13th in the state and was setting his eyes on becoming No. 1 when a tragic turn would make that goal seem rather unimportant.
His father was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — the fatal nerve condition known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. His family moved to the farm to live out his final months.
Marshall Sr. refused his children’s aid while walking to his bulldozer, one of the few tasks he could still perform on the farm as his condition worsened. He fell down on the way there.
“When he fell, he fell like a tree. He couldn’t put his arms out to break his fall, and he would get dirt in his face,” Sanford said. “By the end, I’d be in tears. My brother would be in tears, yet he was so proud when he got on that bulldozer.”
When his father died, he and his brothers built his coffin.
There would be other formative experiences pre-politics — an internship at Goldman Sachs in New York that broadened Sanford’s world view, the vigorous debates over case studies at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, and going to a Renaissance Weekend event where he first heard Jim Davidson, head of the National Taxpayers Union, give an apocalyptic prediction for the nation’s fiscal future.
But those pale in comparison to his memories of what he learned working the soil in Beaufort County.
Bostic cites his father as a great influence, though the story is not an easy one to tell briefly on the stump.
His parents both came from eastern Kentucky’s coal fields, but they moved to Chicago for professional opportunities after high school.
Like so many others in the 1960s, his parents had good jobs, a house in the suburbs and a healthy family. But like some others, his father had an intertwined problem managing his temper — and his drinking.
He eventually moved out. Looking for answers and support, his mother sought a neighbor’s advice about local churches.
Bostic said he doesn’t remember having gone to church before then, but the family’s connection with the church — with God — began to grow.
There were still trying times: His mother’s conversion did not change his father, at least not right away.
But his father eventually embraced sobriety — and the Christian faith, Bostic said. “And that kind of changed in my family from self-destruction to wholeness and healing and resulted in my becoming a Christian as well.”
His father took classes at the Moody Bible Institute and entered the ministry.
He moved the family back to eastern Kentucky. The young Bostic left his Illinois home, his friends and his suburban comforts.
“The reason that was particularly so shaking to me was our income had a radical change. We went from doing fairly well to my dad really having limited means,” Bostic said. “I don’t think my dad ever made more than $30,000 in any year of his life. He raised three kids, and I have a very clear memory of us disciplining ourselves financially.”
To help raise money for school, Bostic delivered newspapers, painted houses, dug ditches and took on other jobs. “I had to pay my own way through my education,” he said. “That really shaped me a lot. He gave me a sense of discipline, a work ethic.”
Bostic’s formative experiences also include service as a Marine in Operation Desert Storm, the anxieties of starting his own law practice, and selling his own suburban house and moving into a mobile home for years to save money to buy a patch of rural land.
But his father’s ministry also had another profound effect on Bostic, who has formed two nonprofits with his wife, Jenny, as he juggled his law practice, raising five children and politics.
“When you’re a minister, you end up doing lots of things for people,” Bostic said. “You go see somebody when they’re sick, and you cut the person’s grass while they’re in the hospital. That’s part of it. I think that helped me come to have a joy in serving.”
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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