- The Washington Times - Friday, August 28, 2009

South Carolina Republican lawmakers are laying plans for a special session legislative session on whether to impeach and remove embattled Gov. Mark Sanford by the end of the year, several senior state lawmakers have told The Washington Times.

Republican lawmakers in the state House will use a regularly scheduled annual retreat in Myrtle Beach this weekend to discuss the governor’s fate and the details on whether to call a special impeachment session of the legislature before its scheduled reconvening in January, Rep. Gary Simrill, a Republican, told The Times on Thursday.

Two bills of impeachment already are being prepared - one by a Republican lawmaker and the other by a Democrat, Mr. Simrill said.

Mr. Simrill, who said he has voted about 80 percent of the time with the Republican governor, met privately with Mr. Sanford on Tuesday and urged him to resign but to no avail.

Mr. Sanford, whose extramarital affair with an Argentine woman sparked an international scandal earlier this summer, has rejected calls to step down voluntarily, including one issued Wednesday by the state’s Republican lieutenant governor.

The movement toward impeachment is bipartisan and goes beyond talks at the Republicans’ House retreat this weekend.

“A group of Republicans and Democrats are discussing how to take up impeachment before we reconvene in January,” Rep. James Smith, a Democrat, told The Times. “The only question is: Are we better off waiting or taking up impeachment before the legislature reconvenes?”

The one Democrat and three Republican lawmakers interviewed Thursday by The Times agreed that fairness requires that any special session come after the state ethics panel issues the results of its ongoing investigation of Mr. Sanford’s possible misdeeds. But all four said that, as the matter stands now, they favor a special impeachment session to get the matter off the state’s agenda.

Republicans and Democrats in both chambers want to get the governor’s fate - whether it’s his removal from office or his vindication - decided one way or another before January so that the issue doesn’t tie up the legislature when it reconvenes.

“Certainly there is merit in having the House and then the Senate, if necessary, hold special sessions to resolve this issue one way or another and not tie up the entire legislative session next year when so many other issues need to be focused on - jobs, lagging revenues and possible cuts in state service,” Mr. Smith said.

House Speaker Pro Tem Harry Cato, a Republican, said “probably what will happen” is that the House alone will be called in to decide on impeachment, and then, if necessary, the Senate will be called in during the same special session to try Mr. Sanford.

If two-thirds of the House votes to impeach Mr. Sanford and two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict him, he would be removed from office and the remainder of his term would be served by Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer.

Mr. Sanford, for the second time in two days, met with reporters Thursday to defend his conduct and insist he would not step down. A day earlier, he had vowed to stay on despite the private visit Tuesday from Mr. Simrill and another House Republican ally, Rep. Nathan Ballentine. The two men asked him to relinquish his office rather than put the state through an impeachment fight.

The governor took to the streets Thursday, holding a news conference on the sidewalk across the office of state Sen. David Thomas, a Republican member of the state panel that oversees legal issues related to the governor’s office.

Mr. Sanford, who flew first class at taxpayers’ expense on a trip to South America during which he visited his paramour, said he is the victim of “selective outrage.”

“If there was a serious investigation going on, what he would have discovered was that over the last 25 years, there have been a full 230 business-class tickets purchased by the Department of Commerce or by different state entities,” Mr. Sanford said.

Mr. Thomas has said South Carolina regulations require state officials to fly the least expensive way available.

“This idea of running for Congress and building up a name ID in this fashion is no way to run for Congress,” said Mr. Sanford, alluding to reports that Mr. Thomas will mount a primary challenge against U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis in South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District.

Mr. Smith is taking the lead on writing the impeachment bill for the House Democrats, and Rep. Greg Delleney is doing so for the House Republicans.

“I will support an impeachment bill or will write it,” Mr. Delleney said by cell phone on his way to the retreat.

One possible impeachment count against the governor is abandoning his legal and constitutional duties for nearly a week earlier this year when nobody, including his staff, knew how to reach him or knew that he was not hiking on the Appalachian Trail as he had indicated. In fact, he was visiting his mistress in Argentina.

The state ethics committee also is investigating whether he used taxpayer money for that trip and whether he accepted rides to places in the United States on airplanes owned by friends but failed to report those trips as in-kind campaign contributions.

Mr. Simrill acknowledged that some rank-and-file Republicans have complained that when Washington Democrats such as former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts or Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana got into trouble involving possible felonies, Democrats circled the wagons to protect them. In contrast, they say, their state’s Republicans seem eager to turn on their own wounded, in the person of Mr. Sanford.

Not true, Mr. Simrill said, because Republicans in the state feel Mr. Sanford “betrayed them,” and was guilty of a “dereliction of duty.”

Nor has the governor made allies he can count on, even though Republicans have legislative majorities in both chambers - by votes of 27-19 in the Senate and 73-51 in the House.

“But in politics, you cultivate friends and create enemies,” Mr. Simrill said. “Sanford has done more creating than cultivating.”

• Ralph Z. Hallow can be reached at rhallow@gmail.com.

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