Sanford impeachment bill 'out of order'

House leader rejects attempt to begin proceedings against Sanford this week

joconnor@thestate.comOctober 28, 2009 

When state Rep. Greg Delleney makes up his mind to do something, the Citadel graduate locks on like a bulldog.

Delleney, a 10-term Republican from Chester County, is the driving force behind the push to remove Gov. Mark Sanford from office for disappearing to Argentina for five days and lying to his staff in June. Sanford later admitted an extramarital affair.

However, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, ruled Tuesday that Delleney would have to wait to introduce his impeachment resolution. That resolution charges Sanford with "serious misconduct" - one standard for impeachment under the South Carolina Constitution - for abandoning his duties.

Under the terms of this week's two-day special session, Harrell said, lawmakers may not introduce new bills, including impeachment.

But Delleney says he is not giving up. Right and wrong, traditional values and moral absolutes motivate him as a lawmaker, he said.

"There are some issues that are political issues where you can hold your nose and go along," Delleney said. "But there are some issues that ... ought to be worth losing an election over."

Delleney, an attorney on the House Judiciary committee, chairs the subcommittee most likely to handle Sanford's impeachment. His advocacy for impeachment has some lawmakers calling that chairmanship a conflict.

Often quiet and funny, Delleney is a member of a loose-knit - and often low-brow - lawmaker lunch group, the House Bi-Partisan Eatin' Caucus.

Prior to this year, Delleney was not among Sanford's chief critics. "I agreed with him more than I disagreed with him."

Chester County GOP chairwoman Sandra Stroman said she has known Delleney, who served in the Navy for three years, for 15 years.

"He's generally a very quiet person," she said. "He listens a lot."

Though many South Carolinians are tired of hearing about Sanford, Stroman thinks Chester Republicans support Delleney.

"I don't think it's personal," Stroman said. "Greg Delleney is a man who believes in right and wrong, and I think he comes down on the side of right every time."

Delleney is among the strongest right-to-life supporters in the Legislature, typically introducing a new bill each year to limit access to abortions.

This year, Delleney successfully shepherded through the House a bill that requires a 24-hour wait before a woman can receive an abortion. He also scuttled a bill that would have provided dating violence counseling for teens by adding an amendment restricting the counseling to heterosexual couples.

Delleney has critics.

"I like Greg. He is very passionate about what he believes," said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg. "My problem is he is foisting his moral beliefs on public policy. I'm not surprised he's pushing this, particularly when sex is involved."

Harrell said Delleney is willing to work through the legislative process.

"I know Greg to be an incredibly honorable, principled man," Harrell said. "But he's reasonable, and you can talk with him on issues."

That was the case this week, as Delleney and state Rep. Walt McLeod, D-Newberry - who opposed Delleney's call for impeachment - argued their case over whether the law allowed the introduction of an impeachment resolution. Each made his case to Harrell early, to allow staff to have the answer ready Tuesday.

On the House floor, Delleney defended his position, saying the special session rules, worked out with the state Senate, did not prevent the House from beginning impeachment work.

"Impeachment is something only the House can do," Delleney said. "We act separately and independently from the Senate in this process. We are the only ones that can impeach."

(The Senate decides whether to remove an official from office after the House has impeached.)

McLeod, meanwhile, said: "Mr. Delleney may have some strong points later on, but at this point, his proposal is absolutely premature. Might even be immature."

Cobb-Hunter then rose to support McLeod's position - two Democrats essentially blocking the impeachment this year of Republican Sanford.

In the end, Harrell said Delleney's motion was out of order.

But the resolution will be back when the House allows bills to be pre-filed, in mid-November, for the legislative session that starts in January. By then, House lawmakers expect to have the conclusions of the State Ethics Commission investigation into whether Sanford broke the law with his use of state planes and other resources.

No matter those conclusions, Delleney will be among those calling for impeachment. "I don't want to have any regrets about whether I did what was right."

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