State lawmakers in South Carolina say Gov. Mark Sanford "breached… (Mic Smith / Associated Press )
Reporting from Atlanta — The chances of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford being impeached lessened significantly Wednesday when a state legislative panel rejected a resolution to begin the process of removing the philandering chief executive from office.
However, the House judiciary subcommittee did approve a resolution to censure Sanford for secretly leaving the state in June. Rather than go hiking along the Appalachian Trail as he had stated, the Republican governor spent a week in Argentina with the woman he has called his soul mate.
After disclosure of Sanford's extramarital affair, the state ethics commission charged him with more than three dozen alleged violations of using his office for personal gain -- including flying business class instead of coach and traveling to political rallies on state-funded planes.
But the subcommittee voted, 6 to 1, against the impeachment resolution, asserting that the governor's official misdeeds were not sufficiently grave. Instead, the lawmakers voted unanimously for the censure resolution, a draft of which declares that the governor "has breached the public trust of South Carolinians and has lowered their confidence in his ability to be their chief executive."
Both resolutions will be sent to the full Judiciary Committee for consideration. But an unfavorable subcommittee recommendation means the impeachment resolution likely is dead. A vote for censure would have to pass the full House and Senate.
To the dismay of many legislators who have called for Sanford to step down, he has vowed to stay in office until his second and final term ends in January 2011.
Next month, the state ethics commission will consider Sanford's alleged ethical breaches. South Carolina Atty. Gen. Henry McMaster also could instigate criminal proceedings.
Republican House Speaker Bobby Harrell on Wednesday issued a statement praising the subcommittee for its middle course. "The threshold for removal from office is a very high standard," he said. "And from the evidence made available to [the panel], it does not appear that the governor's actions have met that threshold."
Harrell also supported approval of the censure resolution, calling Sanford's actions "irresponsible, misguided and hypocritical."
"This entire situation -- the multiple investigations, court cases and media barrage -- could have been easily avoided if the governor had acted in the best interest of our state and resigned from office, as I and a majority of lawmakers urged him to do months ago," he said.
In a statement Wednesday, Sanford said he agreed with the subcommittee finding that 32 of the 37 charges did not merit impeachment. The governor also expressed confidence that the remaining five allegations would be dismissed, saying he would be fully vindicated and promising to "finish strong."