GOP caucus to Sanford: Resign

Mark Sanford

COLUMBIA -- Sixty-one state House Republicans signed their names Wednesday to a letter asking Gov. Mark Sanford to resign.

Whether those fellow party members are willing to vote to impeach him is another matter.

Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, a Cayce Republican, said once Sanford steps aside, the state can begin healing.

"Your actions have been destructive to our state's image on a worldwide stage and are harming the stability of our state on many levels," Bingham wrote to Sanford on behalf of the caucus leadership.

"At a time when all our efforts should be dedicated to creating more higher-paying jobs and improving education, it is regrettable that we must continue to deal with the distracting consequences of this situation. Unless major changes are made, South Carolina will find itself perpetually sidetracked by the disarray that you have brought upon our state."

Bingham said it is clear the governor is a distraction but many members are not ready to say whether they would vote to impeach him.

The caucus letter comes one day after House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican, called for the governor to step down. The caucus has 72 members in the 124-member House. One seat is vacant.

Sanford said he won't resign and he maintains that the calls for him to do so are politically motivated. The governor told Rocky D on Charleston's WTMA-AM on Wednesday that he talks to South Carolinians every day who tell him to stay put.

Sanford said that when he gets a chance to explain the details behind the attention-grabbing headlines, everyday people tend to side with him.

"I think it's important that people take a deep breath and say, 'Wait a minute. What is going on here?' " Sanford said.

Ben Fox, Sanford's communications director, said the letter is evidence of a disconnection between the people of this state who want to move forward and politicians who are looking for political payback.

"The caucus letter is both unpersuasive and unsurprising," Fox said in a statement. "In fact, many of the Representatives signing on are indeed some of the same people who've fought consistently over the years to consolidate power in the legislative body and undermine the authority of the governor.

"Now, some would argue, these legislators are simply responding to media innuendo and an ongoing political circus in Columbia as a cause for action."

The House Democratic Caucus will meet Oct. 1 and decide then whether to take any action.

Senators have been mostly quiet recently because they would be called upon to serve as a jury if the House impeaches Sanford, although a majority of the Republican senators called for the governor to resign shortly after Sanford admitted his affair in late June.

Much speculation is blowing around the capital city, however, about whether 83 House members would line up to impeach the governor, especially a governor in the majority party. Impeachment would take two-thirds of the chamber.

The fact is, though, many members say they won't know until the State Ethics Commission finishes an investigation into Sanford's alleged wrongdoings, Bingham said. The commission is investigating Sanford's air travel on state aircraft, commercial flights and private planes.

"To forcefully remove someone from office is a higher standard, a standard that is clearly laid out in the constitution: a serious crime or serious misconduct," Bingham said.

Kendra Stewart, an associate professor of political science at the College of Charleston, on Wednesday outlined some of the possible underlying politics at play behind the caucus letter.

Politicians who belong to the same party as one involved in a scandal often suffer in the polls in the following election, Stewart said. She noted that Republicans capitalized on the fallout from President Bill Clinton's indiscretions when then-Vice President Al Gore ran against then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush for president. The first Republican governor in three decades was seated in Kentucky after Democratic Gov. Paul E. Patton admitted to an extramarital affair in 2002.

"It's certainly in the best interest of the Republican Party and the Republican caucus for Sanford to resign rather than be impeached," Stewart said. "The governor is traditionally the unofficial head of the party, and the longer the investigation goes on and the longer the scandal is drawn out, the more damage it does to the Republican Party."

Traditionally, voting for impeachment is very difficult, because it is hard to prove that a law was broken that rises to the level of removing a governor from the top post, Stewart said.

She said that if Sanford does not resign, Republicans will likely be in a precarious position: Do they vote to impeach someone from their own party who may have acted unethically, but perhaps not illegally, or do they get classified by voters as a Sanford supporter?

"There is really no political ramification in them signing this letter," Stewart said.

Republican Rep. Nikki Haley of Lexington, who is running for governor, refused to sign the caucus letter because she saw it as nothing more than political posturing. Legislators need to start talking about other matters, specifically unemployment, she said.

"Through his own actions, Governor Sanford has become a badly flawed leader, and our state suffers because of it," Haley said in a statement. "But let's not kid ourselves into thinking that his departure from office, and the resulting unchecked power of the General Assembly, would make things better.

"What would make things better is if everyone in the political process started acting like grown-ups, stopped the political posturing and media circus, and got on with the business of the people."