COLUMBIA -- Unless the unforeseen happens, Gov. Mark Sanford has avoided impeachment.
The House Judiciary Impeachment Subcommittee on Wednesday voted 7-0 to recommend that the Legislature censure the governor instead of impeach him for his 2008 state-paid escapade with his Argentine mistress and his June disappearing act.
The subcommittee's recommendation is generally seen as putting the matter to rest, even though the full 25-member House Judiciary Committee has to consider the recommendation next week and the House could still take up impeachment when it reconvenes in January.
Sanford said he was grateful to the subcommittee members for their deliberative approach and to the public for standing by him.
"I was encouraged repeatedly in traveling across the state over the last several months by countless people telling me to 'hang in there,' and 'finish strong,' " the governor said.
"The people of South Carolina have given me great strength in this adversity I've created for myself, and I want to again thank them for it."
The subcommittee's action was seen as a deft political move that will take the state off the late-night television circuit of Sanford's jokes.
It also will block Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer from moving into the governor's mansion for the remainder of Sanford's term, which would give him a leg up in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
It also is a key economic move to help South Carolina capitalize on Boeing's investment by showing that the state has a stable government.
But Sanford didn't get by Wednesday without a few punches.
The legislators on the subcommittee called his actions hypocritical, arrogant and reprehensible.
Rep. Jenny Anderson Horne, R-Summerville, said he is a failed statesman.
A governor can't be forced from office for those sins, said Rep. Jim Harrison, a Columbia Republican who is leading impeachment talks.
"The question for us is simple: Has the governor's conduct as we've heard breached the constitutional standard? After much soul searching, I reached the conclusion that it does not," Harrison said.
The subcommittee voted 6-1 to reject the proposal to impeach Sanford.
Rep. Greg Delleney, a Chester Republican who authored the impeachment resolution, was the only subcommittee member to vote for it.
The vote reveals that odds are that Sanford will escape impeachment, according to political observers.
Reasons Sanford will likely stay put include:
• A deliberative impeachment process will be time- consuming; Sanford has only 13 months left in office.
• Proceedings will cost time and money, things the Legislature is short on.
• Political alliances are already in place for the more than gubernatorial 10 candidates, and many legislators won't be quick to give Bauer such an edge in the 2010 election as an incumbent.
• No public outcry exists for Sanford's impeachment. A recent Rasmussen poll found that 49 percent of South Carolina voters oppose impeachment, while 36 percent want Sanford forced out.
• The state needs stability for business recruitment efforts.
College of Charleston associate political science professor Kendra Stewart said Wednesday that full committees generally follow the recommendations presented by subcommittees.
"Because the political makeup is similar, if you've already got a majority voting against impeachment, I think it's highly unlikely just based on the numbers" that the full committee would come to a different conclusion, Stewart said.
Besides that, she said, the basic facts are pretty simple.
"There hasn't been really any clear evidence that Sanford at any point broke the law," Stewart said.
The subcommittee reviewed two trips Sanford took to Argentina and 37 ethics charges he faces regarding his use of state aircraft, upgraded plane tickets and $3,000 in campaign reimbursements.
The legislators agreed to remove 32 of the ethics charges from the subcommittee's consideration. They left on the table five trips Sanford took on the state aircraft, alledgedly for personal and political use, as well the Argentina trips.
Sanford is accused of abusing his power for asking the state Department of Commerce to extend a 2008 trade mission to Brazil to include Argentina, during which time he saw his mistress.
He also is accused of a dereliction of duty for abandoning the state for five days in June when he took off to see his lover in Argentina while misleading his staff to believe that he would be hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Sanford still faces a closed-door administrative hearing before the State Ethics Commission on his 37 charges that he used his public office for personal financial gain. Attorney General Henry McMaster also is reviewing the evidence to see if Sanford committed any criminal actions.
As part of Sanford's defense, his lawyers noted that only 16 governors in the history of the United States have been impeached, and just eight were forced from office. And no modern governor has been impeached without having first been charged with felonies.
Delleney said the lawyers' argument isn't the full story.
"What they don't tell us is, how many governors, when faced with scandal, have had the decency to resign," he said.
The Republican and Democratic legislative caucuses have called for Sanford's resignation, along with both state political parties. Several legislators on the impeachment subcommittee reiterated that call Wednesday.
And Stewart, the political science professor, said putting pressure on the governor to resign was one of the hidden motives for carrying out the impeachment proceedings.
Horne, one of the legislators on the subcommittee, said the state already has begun to heal, leaving history to judge the governor.
"South Carolina's best days are ahead of us," she said. "I believe that our motto 'Dum Spiro Spero,' 'While I Breathe I Hope,' is an appropriate sentiment during these dark days in our state's history.
"I have hope we are moving South Carolina forward by closing this chapter in our state's history," she said.
How they voted, what they said
The House subcommittee on Wednesday voted 6-1 against impeaching Gov. Mark Sanford, but voted 7-0 in favor of censure.
Rep. Jim Harrison, a Columbia Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee
"We can’t impeach for hypocrisy. We can’t impeach for arrogance. We can’t impeach an officeholder for his lack of leadership skills. We cannot impeach a public official because the public has lost confidence in his ability to lead".
Rep. Greg Delleney, a Chester Republican who introduced the impeachment resolution
"If we do not vote to impeach Governor Mark Sanford, we will be saying to the people, ‘We make a special exception for statewide elected officeholders. We make a special exception for the statewide elected political class."
Rep. David Weeks, a Sumter Democrat and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus
"Based upon what I have seen so far it is very close call."
Rep. Garry Smith, a Simpsonville Republican
"While I think the actions of the governor have brought embarrassment to the state of South Carolina, while I think the actions of the governor were seriously stupid, I do not think they rise to the level of serious misconduct and serious crimes."
Rep. Walt McLeod, a Little Mountain Democrat
"My conclusion is that while I am discontent about the conduct and behavior of our governor, in my mind, clearly, it does not constitute serious misconduct."
Rep. Jenny Anderson Horne, a Summerville Republican
"The governor’s conduct was not that of a true statesman, or even a gentleman for that matter. My job on this committee is not to sit here in moral judgment of the governor. That rests solely with his creator."
Rep. James Smith, a Columbia Democrat
"This governor is, not quite yet, but soon to be part of our past. I don’t want to spend the months ahead having him do any more damage to this state by occupying our time and resources."
The full 25-member House Judiciary Committee will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday on Statehouse grounds to take up the impeachment resolution. Thirteen members of the committee would have to vote in favor of the resolution to send it to the House floor.
If two-thirds of the House would agreed to impeach Sanford, he would be suspended from office while the Senate served as his jury.