- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 13, 2010

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina state representatives formally reprimanded Gov. Mark Sanford on Wednesday for secret trips to see his Argentine mistress and improper use of state aircraft.

The lawmakers voted 102-11 to censure Mr. Sanford for bringing “ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame” to himself and the state. The rebuke says Mr. Sanford, a two-term Republican, was derelict in his duty and abused his power.

An issue that has hung over South Carolina politics for seven months was dealt with in 21 minutes. The censure has no practical effect on the final year of Mr. Sanford’s tenure. State law prevents him from running again.

Before the vote, Mr. Sanford said he wouldn’t attend the session or watch and would have no comment. “It is what it is,” Mr. Sanford said.

The governor has been under scrutiny since his June revelation of an affair that included a trip to see a woman after telling staff he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail. He still faces civil ethics charges over travel on state planes.

The governor ignored calls to resign after he returned and tearfully confessed an affair with the woman he later called his soul mate.

The House Judiciary Committee had considered impeaching Sanford but decided against it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have lived this nightmare for over seven months,” said state Rep. Jim Harrison, a Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee. “Our failure to take this action today would send a message to the governor and to the citizens of South Carolina that the governor’s conduct is acceptable in our eyes.”

The censure faces an uncertain path in the Senate. State Sen. Jake Knotts, a Republican and frequent Sanford critic, has said he will sideline the bill by sending it to a committee because legislators need more time to look at what Mr. Sanford has done, including what comes of the ethics charges. Senate leaders have said their body may never vote on censure.

State Rep. Todd Rutherford was one of the handful voting against the measure Wednesday. Mr. Rutherford, a Democrat, said in December that legislators would be “idiots” if they didn’t impeach Mr. Sanford.

“It’s nothing. It’s a total waste of time,” Mr. Rutherford said. “We’re not going to make him go sit in a corner. We’re not going to paint a scarlet letter on his forehead and make him wear a T-shirt. What is censure? I think even he thinks it’s a joke. So why bother.”

Mr. Sanford’s wife and sons have moved out of the governor’s mansion in Columbia. Mrs. Sanford has filed for divorce, and Mr. Sanford has asked a judge to OK her request. She memoirs are due to be published next month.

The censure rebukes Mr. Sanford 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.”

In addition to the censure, Mr. Sanford also faces up to $74,000 in fines from the State Ethics Commission, which contends he broke more than three dozen laws involving travel in pricey airline seats, using state aircraft for personal and political trips, and improper reimbursements. A hearing date has not been set.

Meanwhile, the state attorney general is reviewing the ethics investigation to see whether criminal prosecution is warranted.

Many of the charges stem from a series of Associated Press investigations; only a handful were considered by the lawmakers debating impeachment.

The governor, who has denied wrongdoing in his travel practices, is the first South Carolina governor to face censure. Only eight U.S. governors have been removed by impeachment, and the only two removed in the last 80 years each faced criminal charges.

One of Mr. Sanford’s visits to his mistress was in 2008 during a taxpayer-funded trip to South America that was supposed to be an economic development mission. The other was the June trip.

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