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South Carolina GOP wants Sanford gone — and soon

Mark Sanford
Mark Sanford
Tom Murray, Associated Press

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Republican legislators fumed Saturday over Gov. Mark Sanford's affair and questionable travel, though they stopped short of trying to force his resignation or impeachment before they return to the Statehouse in January.

Still, the House GOP Caucus that dominates the lower chamber with 73 of the body's 124 members made two things clear — they want Sanford gone and they want to act soon. However, lawmakers are waiting to make any decisions until the state ethics commission finishes its investigation. And starting impeachment proceedings now could require a costly and special session.

In all, 56 members were on hand and not one raised a word to defend Sanford, who shocked state residents by disappearing for five days in June to rendezvous with his Argentine lover. Since then, investigations by The Associated Press and a state senator have prompted state Attorney General Henry McMaster to call for an ethics investigation. The probe has been under way for about a week.

State Rep. Rita Allison was an education adviser to Sanford, and he supported her 2008 bid to return to a House seat she had held for years before running for lieutenant governor in 2002. Even Allison was mum when House President Pro Tem Harry Cato said Sanford supporters needed to raise their voices now.

"That's because we want him to resign," Allison said afterward. "He made a choice. It wasn't our choice."

Since news of his affair broke, three Associated Press investigations found Sanford used state aircraft for personal travel, violated state requirements by using high-priced air fare and didn't report use of private aircraft.

Sanford has said the news reports reflect "cherry-picking" of his records and that he only followed the practices set by other governors. He's also brushed aside other criticism and investigations as politically motivated.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said he's been telling Sanford for weeks legislators and the public are angry. On Saturday, he urged the GOP caucus to hold off on any action involving an impeachment resolution until the state Ethics Commission wrapped up its probe.

"Members of the caucus are disappointed in him, angry with him and in some ways disgusted by the whole thing and they want to deal with it as quickly as possible," Harrell said.

Sanford issued a statement Saturday about the caucus but didn't directly address the disgust of lawmakers.

"It's also important to reiterate what we said yesterday: that we're dedicated to an open and fair ethics process, and would further urge all levels of state government to embrace that same transparency," the statement said.

Harrell said he'll continue gauging sentiment in the caucus on whether it should send a joint letter calling for Sanford to resign. But legislators left without taking any action.

Two-thirds of the House would have to approve an impeachment resolution; two-thirds of the Senate would have to approve Sanford's removal from office.

Ethics commission director Herb Hayden said it could take as long as six months for commissioners to review the investigation, schedule hearings and reach a decision. Harrell said that wouldn't be acceptable and hoped it could be wrapped up in a matter of weeks.

"If we can get the results of their investigation from them, I think that would suffice for us to make a determination on how we should proceed," he said.

State Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, said there was already enough proof of misconduct.

"He has disgraced the office of governor of South Carolina," Delleney said. "He has disgraced and brought shame on the state."

Delleney laid out specifics of the impeachment resolution he is drafting, noting Sanford "planned this trip that he wanted to take all because he wanted to have sex with a woman that he wasn't married to." He said that amounted to a "premeditated dereliction of duty."