- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 30, 2009

State Republican House members in South Carolina agreed Saturday to ask beleaguered Republican Gov. Mark Sanford to resign and are preparing a bill of impeachment in case he refuses, leading Republican lawmakers told The Washington Times.

The decision to send Mr. Sanford a letter from the House Republican caucus asking for his resignation came on the last day of an annual House Republican retreat attended by 56 of the 73 sitting Republican House members.

“The consensus was for the governor to resign, and nobody in the room said the governor should not resign,” House Speaker Pro Tem Harry Cato told The Times after the caucus met.

At the same time the state House Republicans were meeting in Myrtle Beach on Saturday morning, the state Republican executive committee was meeting in the state capital of Columbia, but did not bring up the governor or his future, state Republican Chairwoman Karen Floyd said.

The state Republican Party already had formally censured Mr. Sanford on July 6 for having deceived state law enforcement, the public, his wife and his own staff over his whereabouts while he was secretly visiting his mistress in Argentina. The censure language precludes further action or comment by the state Republican Party’s governing body unless and until a formal investigation or review by the state Senate or the State Ethics Commission finds wrongdoing by the governor.

The caucus expects to draft and send the letter within the next few days, Rep. Gary Simrill said by phone after the caucus meeting.

Rep. Greg Delleney Jr., meanwhile, said he is having articles of impeachment drafted on behalf of fellow House Republicans.

The Republican caucus took no formal vote on Saturday, but there was agreement in the caucus meeting that a special impeachment session of the House should be called if Mr. Sanford doesn’t leave office on his own, Mr. Simrill said.

“That’s probably the way it will happen,” Mr. Cato said on Thursday.

Several other House members told The Times on Thursday that the common goal among Republicans and Democrats in the legislature was to get House impeachment hearings and a possible impeachment trial in the Senate out of the way before the state legislature reconvenes in January and begins to grapple with double-digit unemployment and shrinking revenues.

The latest revelations by the Associated Press of possible ethical and campaign-finance violations involving rides by Sanford family members on state-government aircraft for nongovernmental purposes and other rides by the governor to various political events in the United States on small planes owned by friends may be under review by South Carolina’s Ethics Commission. Precisely what it is reviewing is expected to be made public soon, because Mr. Sanford waived the commission’s confidentiality rule on Friday when he said he approved of the investigation and wanted it to be “transparent.”

Otherwise, state law makes it a crime to reveal ethics commission referrals and reviews unless and until a finding is made public.

Even some Republicans who would like to see Mr. Sanford leave office one way or another for, in a phrase they often use, “having broken faith with voters,” said privately that the allegations of ethics lapses that the press and Sanford detractors are raising are so inconsequential that the ethics commission will likely dismiss them without comment.

But Mr. Sanford could nonetheless face impeachment and possible conviction because the state does not require that a crime or misdemeanor be committed by a governor for him to be removed from office.

Republican state Sen. David Thomas has begun a legislative investigation of Mr. Sanford’s actions.

Last week, Mr. Sanford defiantly spurned Republican Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer’s public call for the governor to resign and spent much of the next two days accusing other state officials of having flown “business class” instead of coach class, saying Mr. Bauer, Mr. Thomas and others who are hounding Mr. Sanford were engaging in “selective outrage.”

Despite a new poll showing most South Carolinians want Mr. Sanford out of office and that even among Republicans only a minority want him to stay, Mr. Sanford is likely to insist on staying put, even if impeachment proceedings were to get under way, according to both Mr. Cato and Mr. Simrill.

The ethics commission, whose members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature, is expected to announce its findings in two to three weeks, Mr. Cato said.

On July 6, the state Republican executive committee - an elected governing body - voted 22-9 to censure Mr. Sanford.

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