Polls show S.C. residents hope Sanford will act on his own

Most think Sanford should quit

joconnor@thestate.comSeptember 20, 2009 

  • Weighing wrongdoing

    The S.C. Ethics Commission has been asked to look into four questions about Sanford's conduct. Lawmakers who favor impeachment say Sanford's secret trip to Argentina qualifies as a dereliction of duty and, therefore, misconduct in office that should subject the governor to an impeachment rail. Below is the case subject against Sanford and the governor's defense. Sanford has become more agressive in defending himself in recent weeks.

    Question No. 1

    Did Sanford use the state plane for personal or political purposes, a violation of state law?

    The case against Sanford: A review of public flight records shows Sanford and his family used the state plane to pick them up from vacation destinations and to ferry the family around the state. There were instances when Sanford, while traveling via state plane, also conducted what could be considered political business.

    Sanford's defense: The governor has used the state plane less than previous governors, which records support. The governor denies using the state plane to conduct political business. Use of the state plane is restricted to official business, and Sanford said his family's plane use was always to conduct official business.

    Question No. 2

    Did Sanford violate state law regulating travel by flying business class on overseas trade trips?

    The case against Sanford: Sanford, according to an investigation by The Associated Press, charged the state more than $37,600 for one first-class and four business-class flights overseas since November 2005. State law says state employees cannot purchase such flight upgrades.

    Sanford's defense: Previous governors have done the same thing, Sanford argues, something state auditors have declared permissible. Often, previous governors and state commerce officials paid for travel through a private fund.

    Question No. 3

    Should Sanford have reported the use of private plane trips given by friends or political groups, including the Republican Governors Association?

    The case against Sanford: The governor accepted about three dozen private plane trips from friends and political supporters he did not report. The S.C. Ethics Commission says those trips must be reported if it can be reasonably believed those trips would not have been awarded if Sanford were not governor.

    Sanford's defense: Sanford said the trips were all from friends and family members and, therefore, did not need to be reported.

    Question No. 4

    Did Sanford abandon his post when he took his secret trip to Argentina?

    The case against Sanford: Many state lawmakers say Sanford, who left for five days and could not be reached by his staff for much of his time away, abandoned his post.

    Sanford's defense: Sanford has maintained he could be reached, although he has declined to give details about who in state government could reach him and how.

    Taking it to the streets

    Gov. Mark Sanford's media strategy of late has been to visit civic clubs and e-mail supporters.

    The civic-club circuit. Sanford has talked to more than a dozen civic clubs on what some have dubbed his "apology tour." Typically, he apologizes for letting voters down with his admission of an extramarital affair. Then he talks about why he thinks the end of his term could be his most productive. Restructuring is still atop Sanford's agenda, and the addresses to these civic clubs usually focus on that issue.

    The Sanford e-mail. Twice in recent weeks Sanford has issued mass e-mails to supporters. In those e-mails, Sanford rebuts claims that have been made about his spending on travel.

    The media stiff-arm. Sanford in recent weeks has answered few questions from the reporters following him. When Sanford has spoken extensively to reporters, it has been with The Washington Times and The Wall Street Journal.

South Carolina residents agree on one thing about Gov. Mark Sanford - they are tired of the speculation about the embattled governor's future.

But there is little agreement on how to resolve the situation, including whether lawmakers should remove the governor, who has 15 months left in office.

In more than two dozen interviews conducted last week, nearly all of those asked condemned Sanford's actions, and a majority said he should resign. But removing the governor is not nearly so popular an option.

Those interviews track recent polls, which have found a slight majority of South Carolinians wish the Republican governor would resign.

Sanford's future has been in doubt since he left the state on a secret five-day trip to Argentina in June. The married father of four later admitted to an extramarital affair.

Subsequent media scrutiny of Sanford's use of state planes, business-class airfare, private plane flights and campaign funds sparked a State Ethics Commission investigation. That inquiry is under way. However, the commission has yet to say if Sanford violated state law or ethics rules or did nothing wrong.

Sanford has refused to resign. But a number of lawmakers are preparing to impeach and attempt to remove the governor when the Legislature returns to Columbia.

Most state residents said they are unhappy with Sanford's conduct.

"It was his policy when he became governor to cut state spending and have state employees take cheaper flights. But yet he doesn't apply that to himself?" said Emily Kayzer, 48, of Batesburg-Leesville. "How can he talk about cutting government spending when he's not following his own rules? So therefore, I've lost all faith in him."

Kayzer is among those who think lawmakers should remove Sanford from office.

"They should. If he can't follow the rules he set for everybody else, then he doesn't need to be leading."

Polls find strong support for Sanford's resignation.

A poll released earlier this month by North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, which often polls for Democrats, showed 51 percent of those surveyed thought Sanford should resign. An InsiderAdvantage poll from late August showed 49.5 percent of those polled thought Sanford should resign.

In both polls, about 40 percent of those surveyed thought Sanford should remain in office.

Sanford's polling numbers have slipped since the days immediately following his June 24 admission of an affair, when about half of state residents said Sanford should remain in office. Likewise, Sanford's once sky-high approval ratings have slipped to 31 percent, according to the Public Policy Polling survey.

Sanford also increasingly has lost support among the state's political class, including his fellow Republicans, who control the state House and Senate.

A majority of Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly - never the governor's biggest fans or allies - have asked Sanford to resign. So, too, has the S.C. Republican Party's leadership and GOP Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer - a political rival who might run for governor next year.

'LIVING IN HIS OWN PRIVATE HELL'

While they would welcome his resignation, South Carolinians hold more nuanced positions on whether Sanford should be forced from office by impeachment.

In Newberry, site of a GOP gubernatorial debate set for Tuesday, Ann Oswald of Whitmire said Sanford had failed to set a good example. But Oswald, 58, said impeachment might go too far.

"I don't know if that sets a good record or not," she said. "He should just resign."

Cayce voter Becky Hugg did not equivocate: "The affair doesn't bother me. I think they should (impeach Sanford) because he left his post. He deserted his post."

Sanford has his defenders as well. One woman in Newberry declined to comment, only to turn and yell - "Leave him alone!" - from a block away.

"I don't think he should have done what he did," said Lynn Workman, 45, of Aiken. "But I think we should either do something about it or shut up. We got stuff we need to take care of and other things to do.

"His wife and him need to settle it, and we need to get out of it. ... (Lawmakers) need to just go on, and let's take care of state stuff and let him deal with his own demons."

Silverstreet resident Shirley Williams, 55, said she disagreed with Sanford's refusal to accept $700 million in federal stimulus money earlier this year. A court eventually forced Sanford to accept the money.

But Williams agrees with Sanford's statement, made in speeches to civic groups across the state in recent weeks, that South Carolina is ready to move on.

"He was wrong in what he did, but it was his personal life," Williams said. "I don't think they should try to impeach him. He's only got a year left.

"They should just let it go. He's living in his own private hell right now, so just let it go."

West Columbia resident Frank Bale, 45, said an impeachment battle likely would not be worth the effort.

"What he did - without informing anyone and going away for four or five days - that was wrong," said Bale. "But people make mistakes, and we should just move on. ... He has got, what, 13, 14 months left? It doesn't make sense to get a new governor for 13, 14 months when the next one is around the corner."

West Columbia resident Eric Bright, 26, agreed there are more pressing problems.

"It's in the past," Bright said. "It just goes to show how messed up society is. They worry about little things when they need to worry about bigger things. The state is in a recession and everything.

"But they want to worry about this?"

Reach O'Connor at (803) 771-8358.

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