Bid to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford begins Tuesday

A state Republican lawmaker will introduce a resolution Tuesday to begin impeachment proceedings against South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

By , Staff writer

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    Gov. Mark Sanford is pictured at the Statehouse in Columbia, S.C., in this Sept. 10 file photo.
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Remember Mark Sanford, Republican governor of South Carolina, who tearfully admitted last June that he had disappeared for five days because he was having an affair with a woman in Argentina?

On Tuesday, a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Greg Delleney (R), will introduce a resolution to begin impeachment proceedings against the governor. The measure is expected to be referred to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which would postpone any action until January.

Once thought to be a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, Governor Sanford was reduced in short order to a late-night punchline. Now, if anything, talk among state residents centers on whether he and his wife can reconcile. In August, Sanford’s wife, Jenny, decamped with the couple’s four sons to the family home on Sullivan's Island, 120 miles away from the capital, Columbia.

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Before considering impeachment, state legislators have said they want to wait for a report from the state’s ethics commission on the governor’s use of state funds. The commission is focused on his use of state aircraft, private travel expenditures, and campaign funds.

Distracted second term?

So even if Sanford is not on the verge of losing his job, the impeachment move has reignited attention to his damaged governorship. In addition, South Carolina’s biggest newspaper, The State, published an article Monday detailing how Sanford has essentially lost interest in governing.

Analysis of Sanford’s calendar shows that while in 2004, his second year in office, he held amost nine staff meetings a week, this year he is holding just over four. When Sanford took office in 2003, he “typically packed more than a dozen events into his daily schedule,” the article says. The second term shows a clear “focus elsewhere, not on South Carolina.”

To be fair, most chief executives – including presidents – wind down their activities as their tenure draws to a close. But the State article conveyed a clear message to Sanford’s constituents: “Sorry, people of South Carolina, he’s just not that into you,” says Chip Felkel, a Greenville-based GOP consultant. “We’re in a state of limbo.”

Even after the regular legislative session begins in January, political observers do not expect quick action on impeachment. Chances are, Sanford will run out the clock until his term expires in January 2011. The race for the November 2010 gubernatorial election has been under way for months, with hotly contested primaries in both major parties.

Another factor that may cool any impetus toward impeachment is Lt. Gov. André Bauer, who would move into the governorship if Sanford were to depart. The lieutanant governor has faced questions about his personal behavior, including numerous speeding tickets.

The long process of impeachment

Many state GOP political figures, including Mr. Bauer, have called on Sanford to step down, to no avail.

“He’s passed that barricade,” says David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University in Greenville and a Republican strategist.

Mr. Woodard also does not see the impeachment effort resulting in Sanford’s early departure from office.

“They start in January, so he’s got a year,” says Woodard. “All I have is the precedent of Watergate and then [President] Clinton in 1998. It’s a torturous process, with all the gathering of evidence and lawyers who are adept at needing ‘just a little more time.’ ”

As with federal impeachment, in South Carolina the process begins in the House. If two-thirds of the members vote to impeach, a trial is held in the Senate, with members acting as a jury.

Going forward, one development that could ease the pressure on Sanford would be a decision by Boeing Co. to build an assembly line in North Charleston, S.C. It would be the biggest economic coup in the state since BMW came to Greenville-Spartanburg in the 1990s. News reports indicate that a decision is expected in the next two weeks, and has boiled down to a choice of Everett, Wash., and North Charleston.

“If [South Carolina wins] – and I think it would happen apart from Sanford or any other politician – he looks awfully good,” says Woodard. “So something beyond his control could be his salvation.”

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