After nearly four hours of discussion Monday evening, leaders of the South Carolina Republican Party voted to censure Gov. Mark Sanford, reprimanding him for secretly leaving the state to visit his lover in Argentina.
While the vote reveals how the state’s GOP leadership feels about the scandal, it has no practical effect on whether the governor remains in office.
“The events of the past two weeks have been as divisive as they have been disappointing for Republicans,” S.C. Republican Party chairman Karen Floyd said late Monday in a prepared statement. “But today has brought a large measure of resolution to a sad chapter in our state party’s history. Republicans came together to speak with a unified voice, and now is the time for healing.
“We are now united and we pledge to focus our energy and efforts on finding conservative solutions to the challenges facing South Carolina,” the statement read.
The GOP’s executive committee options were:
Ask the governor to resign
Reprimand the governor in a formal, nonbinding resolution
Or support the governor
Twenty-two committee members voted for a reprimand, 10 called for his resignation, while nine voted to support the governor.
The governor’s spokesman, Joel Sawyer, reiterated Monday night after the vote that the governor will stay on.
“The governor fully appreciates the party’s position and he intends to work diligently to earn back its trust,” Sawyer said.
Two weeks ago, Sanford’s whereabouts became a high-profile mystery as his staff struggled to explain the governor’s absence. Sanford turned off both his private cell phone and state-issued cell phone for days, according to sources familiar with his disappearance. It later was revealed Sanford went on a secret trip to Buenos Aires to visit his lover.
Sanford was not in regular communication with his staff and did not turn over power to the lieutenant governor while he was gone. He did not respond to text messages or voice messages left by law enforcement officials.
Sanford has said he misled his staff to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Those facts led some elected officials to call for the governor’s resignation, including a majority of Republican senators and Republican Congressman Gresham Barrett, a gubernatorial candidate.
Last week, state law enforcement officials said the governor did not improperly use state money during six meetings with his Argentine lover, Maria Belen Chapur, since he has taken office.
Public support appears to be waning for the embattled governor who — prior to his fight to reject federal stimulus money and the current scandal — enjoyed high approval ratings.
Dianne Skripek of Hilton Head is one of many South Carolinians who think the governor should step down after his disappearance from the state.
“If he left office, at least we’d get some self-respect back,” said Skripek, who is attempting to organize South Carolinians to urge the governor to resign. “If we continue to allow him to stay, it’s a horrible reflection on us. We have to demand better and expect better.”
Monday morning, the governor returned from a Florida trip with his family to attend a closed briefing with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Project Seahawk, a port security project, in North Charleston.
“He had a good weekend with the family,” Graham said of Sanford. “My hope is and continues to be that he can reconcile with his family and repair the damage done to his family and with the constituents of South Carolina and can finish out his term. That is still my belief, and that is still my hope, and I believe that is possible.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach Smith at (803) 771-8658