- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2009

COLUMBIA, S.C. | South Carolina lawmakers voted down a measure to impeach embattled Gov. Mark Sanford on Wednesday but recommended a formal rebuke that said his travels and trysts with an Argentine mistress brought the state “ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame.”

Some members of a legislative panel said the Republican should resign, but they mostly agreed that his affair and use of state planes was not serious misconduct that merited removal from office.

Instead, the seven lawmakers unanimously approved a resolution saying he has “brought ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame not only upon Governor Sanford, but upon this state and its citizens, which rises to a level which requires a formal admonishment and censure.”

Mr. Sanford, once considered a dark-horse contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, has been under scrutiny since June when he tearfully revealed a yearlong affair. Ensuing probes of his travel and campaign spending led to more than three dozen state ethics charges and the potential for $74,000 in fines. His second and final term ends in January 2011.

“We can’t impeach for hypocrisy. We can’t impeach for arrogance. We can’t impeach an officeholder for his lack of leadership skills,” said Rep. James Harrison, the Columbia Republican who headed the panel.

Mr. Sanford spoke to reporters in Charleston shortly after the vote, agreeing with the panel’s decision and continuing to insist he had done nothing out of step with the conduct of other governors.

Only eight U.S. governors have been removed by impeachment, and the only two removed in the past 80 years each faced criminal charges.

Technically, the outcome of Wednesday’s vote will be sent as a recommendation to a full House judiciary panel, which could revive an impeachment effort. However, that is unlikely given the margin of the vote.

Although the decision likely preserves Mr. Sanford’s remaining 13 months as governor, he still faces further legislative votes on the official rebuke. He’ll also be the subject of a State Ethics Commission hearing on 37 charges involving his use of state planes for personal and political trips, pricey commercial airlines seats and campaign money. The state attorney general is considering whether those accusations will lead to criminal charges.

What the governor may accomplish in the coming months is in doubt, especially in light of the international media sensation sparked by his unexplained absence and secret trip to Argentina this past summer.

“We have a governor forsaking, abandoning, deserting his office. We have a premeditated, intentional act where he abandoned his office in the state,” said state Rep. Greg Delleney, a Republican who was the lone vote for impeachment. “He has lost all moral authority to lead this state.”

Lawmakers here say the ethics issues shattered the image that Mr. Sanford had cultivated as a penny-pinching steward of the state’s money, even though the charges didn’t make it into the impeachment debate.

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