- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 29, 2009

COLUMBIA, S.C. | In the months since South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford admitted to having an extramarital affair, he’s been hit with calls for his resignation and with an ethics investigation that could cost him thousands.

The scandal that beset the two-term Republican heads into the new year with potential law changes that would alter how the state elects its top officials, protects its governors and pays for travel.

“We’re just going to move forward on a positive note, and that’s what the fallout is going to be,” said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, Charleston Republican.

Lawmakers who are to gather in the state capital in 2010 plan to debate measures that would:

c Allow citizens of the state to use a petition drive to fire the governor.

c Require governors and lieutenant governors to have round-the-clock security.

c And elect the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket, potentially making any transfer of power seamless.

The proposals follow Mr. Sanford’s June revelation of his affair and ensuing investigations into his use of planes and campaign money.

Lawmakers in December turned aside a push to impeach Mr. Sanford, saying in part that misleading his staff into thinking he was hiking the Appalachian Trail and staying out of touch with his office for five days in June were not weighty enough offenses to warrant his ouster. Still, the governor will head into January facing a formal rebuke for “dereliction in his duties of office, for official misconduct in office and for abuses of power while in office that has brought ridicule and dishonor to himself, the state of South Carolina, and to its citizens.”

The governor also will be the subject of a State Ethics Commission hearing into 37 charges that he broke laws on travel and finances, which could bring a maximum of $74,000 in fines. The charges included 18 accusations that the governor broke rules requiring lowest-cost travel by using pricey airline seats, and that he used state planes for political and personal trips nine times.

Mr. Sanford says he’s done nothing different than his predecessors, and he wants some things clarified.

“I mean, the idea that we were out there trying to break the law in buying a business-class ticket to travel across the Pacific or across the Atlantic, I mean, is just crazy,” Mr. Sanford said earlier this month. “Just tell us what you want us to do, but let’s make it explicit.”

Even some of his most ardent critics agree that travel restrictions should be eased for chief executives. “I don’t think the governor should fly coach,” said state Rep. Todd Rutherford, Columbia Democrat, who was one of the first to call on Mr. Sanford to resign.

State Sen. Larry Martin said governors should be able to use state planes as much as they want to get around South Carolina to do their job. The Pickens Republican said requiring officials to publicly disclose their use of the aircraft - which currently is required - should head off the need for explicit limits.

“If the public finds he’s abusing it, he’ll be held accountable in the election process,” Mr. Martin said.

Also to be considered in the new year are measures introduced by three state senators that say the public should have the right to recall - or fire - elected officials for incompetence, violating their oath of office, misconduct or a felony.

The proposals would require petitions signed by 15 percent of registered voters for a statewide office. Current law only allows removing a governor through impeachment.

Mr. McConnell also proposed several changes to the state constitution, including renewing a perennial push to have the lieutenant governor elected jointly with the governor.

Having the two offices on the same ticket - like president and vice president - could head off political hurdles for control of the state when the governor is out of touch with his office. While the constitution does indicate the lieutenant governor takes charge in case of emergency, Mr. McConnell also filed a bill making it clear that when the governor is out of contact and out of state, the lieutenant governor takes over.

Mr. McConnell and state Sen. Jake Knotts also want full-time security details for governors and lieutenant governors. Mr. Sanford is known to occasionally have dismissed his security detail for everything from bike rides to his summertime rendezvous, when state law enforcement did not know where he went.

That “sends a message to those who would be governor or who are running that if you don’t want 24/7 protection, don’t run for governor,” Mr. Martin said.

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