SC lawmakers vote down measure to impeach governor for tryst, travel; will consider rebuke

By Jim Davenport, AP
Wednesday, December 16, 2009

SC lawmakers nix Sanford ouster, consider rebuke

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina lawmakers have voted down a measure to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford for taking secret trips to visit his mistress in Argentina and improperly using state aircraft.

While expected, the House Judiciary Committee’s 18-6 vote came after emotional debate Wednesday. It put a formal end to the effort to remove the Republican from office and echoed the recommendation made by a smaller legislative panel last week.

The committee still is considering a formal rebuke that accuses the governor of bringing “ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame” to the state.

Sanford has been under scrutiny since June when he tearfully revealed the 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.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers got emotional Wednesday as they debated whether to recommend impeachment or a formal rebuke over Gov. Mark Sanford’s secret trips to see his Argentine mistress and his use of state planes.

Several members of the House Judiciary Committee pleaded with their colleagues to revive an effort to remove Sanford, who disappeared from the state for five days in June and returned to tearfully confess an affair with a woman in Argentina named Maria Belen Chapur.

Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat, said a regular state employee would be fired for leaving a job for five days without telling anyone.

“If the law says something and you do something different, you have violated the law,” Rutherford said. “It doesn’t matter who you are. … He is nothing more than an employee of this state.”

A week ago, a smaller panel recommended the two-term Republican keep his job but be censured for bringing “ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame” to the state. The full committee could opt to revive the push to oust the governor, but that is not expected.

Either censure or impeachment would require action by the full House and Senate.

Some lawmakers said Sanford should step down, echoing calls for resignation that the governor has rebuffed since he told his staff he was planning a hike on the Appalachian Trail when he really was heading to Buenos Aires.

“He said he was taking a hike, and it’d be good if he did take a hike, honestly,” said Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston.

Sanford still faces civil ethics charges for allegedly improper travel and use of campaign funds.

Associated Press Writer Meg Kinnard contributed to this report.

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