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Sanford returns home to impeachment rumblings

Did South Carolina's missing governor commit a 'serious offense' by going underground in Argentina?

By Staff writer / June 24, 2009

In this April 3, 2009 file photo, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford fields questions during a news conference in Columbia, S.C. Gov. Sanford told a newspaper Wednesday that he was in Argentina during his unexplained 5-day absence, not hiking along the Appalachian Trail as his office previously said.

Mary Ann Chastain, file/AP

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UPDATE:  Read the transcript of the live blogging session that took place during Governor Sanford's press conference.   "The Vote" blogger Jimmy Orr spoke with Gary Karr during the event.  Karr is a longtime South Carolina political pundit serving as a reporter for the State House and as press secretary for former South Carolina Governor David Beasley.

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What began as a story of a quirky Southern governor going on a mystery walkabout took a more serious turn Wednesday morning, with reports of impeachment talk bubbling out of South Carolina's capital.

The disappearing act by Mark Sanford, a gubernatorial hero of the GOP who resurfaced after a five-day incommunicado absence, has not played well, even among members of his own party. The impeachment rumblings, first cited by Southern Political Report editor Tom Baxter, are more grave, though. In a bulletin Wednesday morning about the impeachment talks, Mr. Baxter quotes “well-placed sources” in Columbia.

The governor's trip – taken together with the bitter intraparty battles over the budget in South Carolina and Sanford’s profile as a potential GOP presidential contender – is raising questions about whether he committed “serious misconduct” as chief executive, which is an impeachable offense under South Carolina's constitution.

Complaints are that the governor turned off his cellphone without making plans for succession and that he apparently misled his staff about his whereabouts. According to his office, he had told them he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail and instead traveled to Argentina, where he’s said to have taken quiet drives along the beach.

More than a 'screwball South Carolina story'

“This story has taken on more gravity because of these revelations in the last few hours,” says Baxter in a phone interview. “I think for the first time now you can pose the question of whether this is just a screwball South Carolina story or something bigger that relates in part to the trouble Republicans are having finding any traction at any level of government.”

It may not be quite “State of Chaos” – as the headline splashed across Tuesday's Wall Street Journal declared. Sanford, after all, had gone missing before, on industrial-relations trips and during vacations to his summer home on a South Carolina island. He also fulfilled his duty as a national guardsman while retaining power in Columbia. But this was the first time the governor had been completely out of touch, his staff has said.

Sanford is considered to be a somewhat distant executive, who as a congressman during the 1990s left Washington at every opportunity and who at fundraising events would often stand in the corner, quietly chatting with friends.