SC lawmakers to take up impeachment of governor

AP News
Posted: Nov 20, 2009 4:14 PM

South Carolina lawmakers plan to formally consider impeaching Gov. Mark Sanford for the first time next week, the chairman of the committee beginning that work said Friday.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison told The Associated Press he is appointing an ad-hoc committee of four Republicans and three Democrats who will begin meeting Tuesday. He said he expects to have a resolution to impeach ready before Christmas for the full Judiciary Committee to consider.

Sanford spokesman Ben Fox declined to comment.

Sanford attorney Butch Bowers said his firm is representing Sanford in the impeachment hearing and "we look forward to cooperating with the House throughout this process."

Sanford, a Republican, left the state for five days in June to rendezvous with his Argentine lover. Since he returned and tearfully confessed the affair, he has faced questions about his travel and whether he should be removed from office for misconduct. He has resisted calls to resign.

The meeting is to take up the issue at the heart of an impeachment resolution that four Republicans filed this week. It says Sanford left no one in charge of the state, a dereliction of duty, while he "directed members of his staff in a manner that caused them to deceive and mislead the public officials" about where he was. His staff told reporters he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Harrison, R-Columbia, announced his plans two days after the State Ethics Commission said it would move forward with charges against the two-term governor. The commission spent three months investigating Sanford's use of state planes for personal and political purposes, unreported trips on donors' and friends' planes, pricey commercial travel despite a state low-cost travel rule and personal reimbursements from his campaign account.

The Ethics Commission could release details of those charges as soon as Monday. But Harrison said the ad hoc panel would begin work without that information.

"We don't need the ethics report for that," he said.

Harrison will chair the panel, which will include state Rep. Walt McLeod, a Prosperity Democrat who irked others in his party by moving to block an impeachment resolution last month.

McLeod said he was only doing so because the resolution wasn't appropriate in a special session to deal with unemployment benefits and economic development incentives.

Harrison said a majority vote of the 25-member judiciary committee is needed to get the impeachment resolution to the House floor in January for debate. To pass there, it would require a two-thirds vote, which would result in Sanford's suspension.

The Senate, acting as jury, then would decide whether Sanford would be removed from office, which would also require a two-thirds vote.