The saga of philandering South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford took another odd turn Tuesday when a fellow Republican’s attempt to launch impeachment proceedings was scuttled by a Democrat awaiting the results of an ethics investigation.
Sanford -- who clashed with many Republicans even before his widely publicized trip to Argentina to see his mistress -- has found many lawmakers calling for his resignation. Even so, the governor has vowed to fight “tooth and nail” to remain in office until his term ends in January 2011.
Tuesday’s proposed resolution by Republican state Rep. Greg Delleney said that Sanford’s secret visit to South America had “brought extreme dishonor and shame” to the state. It alleged that Sanford had deceived his staff, “clandestinely evaded” state police and failed to communicate with the chain of command when he made the June trip.
But Delleney’s attempt to introduce the resolution was stymied by Rep. Walton J. McLeod, who argued that it was out of order because the House was meeting in a special session to discuss specific economic issues -- not impeachment.
Republican Speaker Bobby Harrell sided with McLeod. As a result, the resolution cannot be considered before January, when the next legislative session begins. Delleney could not be reached for comment.
McLeod has argued that the House should hold off on any impeachment proceedings until it sees the results of a state ethics commission investigation. The panel is looking into allegations that Sanford misused state planes and otherwise violated the law.
Sanford has asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to block release of the investigators’ findings to the House leadership because, he said, they would not contain his full defense.
McLeod said Tuesday that he believed the trip alone didn’t amount to “serious crimes or serious misconduct” -- the grounds for impeachment laid out in the state constitution.
“I thought an impeachment resolution was premature,” he said.
Rep. Joe Neal said that he and a number of other Democrats also opposed the resolution for similar reasons.
Not everyone in politically conservative South Carolina found it a surprise that Democrats had stepped in to delay the possible impeachment of Sanford.
Brian McCarty, a conservative blogger and veteran campaign consultant, said Democrats stood to benefit from keeping the scandal alive as long as possible.
“If they can have Mark Sanford to kick around, it helps them,” McCarty said.
But McLeod denied that he was playing politics.
Under the state constitution, impeachment in the House requires a two-thirds vote. The matter would then be taken up by the Senate, which would hold a trial. Sanford, meanwhile, would be suspended, elevating his GOP foe, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, to acting governor.
If two-thirds of the Senate voted to convict the governor, he would be removed from office.
Sanford’s office declined to comment on Tuesday’s developments.