KNOXVILLE, TENN. — South Carolina's lieutenant governor on Wednesday called for the resignation of Gov. Mark Sanford, citing "serious misconduct" and "serious distractions" that have stemmed from Sanford's extramarital tryst with an Argentine woman.
But Sanford declined to step down, calling his understudy's move "pure politics, plain and simple."
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who, like Sanford, is a Republican, said that he was in fact trying to depoliticize the deliberations over the fate of Sanford, who is facing potential impeachment.
Bauer is one of a handful of Republicans expected to run for governor in the coming months; he could ostensibly gain an advantage if he were to fill in the remainder of Sanford's term, although he said Wednesday that he would not seek his party's nomination for governor in 2010 if Sanford resigns.
Bauer, in a lunch-hour news conference in Columbia, the capital, seemed to insinuate that lawmakers allied with other gubernatorial candidates were not moving aggressively to remove Sanford from office because they feared that Bauer would then be able to run as an incumbent.
"Some elected officials who know the state would be better served by a change in leadership are nonetheless working to prevent a change due to their own political interests . . . " Bauer said. "I want to eliminate that dilemma for them by sacrificing my own political aspirations and putting the best interests of the people of South Carolina first."
Sanford revealed in June that he had visited his lover in Argentina after leading people to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Within hours, the governor, a rising star among conservatives, became a favored punch line for late-night comedians.
His taxpayer-funded trips have also come under scrutiny, and Sanford said this month that his political career was over. Also this month, Jenny Sanford and the couple's four sons moved out of the governor's mansion in Columbia.
Impeachment would require a two-thirds vote of the full House and, after a trial, a two-thirds vote of the Senate.
A majority of state Republican senators have called upon Sanford to leave office. South Carolina's largest newspaper, the State, reported that the House Republican caucus would discuss impeaching Sanford at a retreat this week in Myrtle Beach.
Sanford's term, his second as governor, expires in January 2011. Over the years, his relationship with Bauer -- like his relationship with a number of South Carolina Republicans -- has been rocky.
In a late-afternoon news conference of his own, Sanford said he was "not going to be railroaded out of this office by political opponents."