Impeachment proposal vote likely today

House panel has been scrutinizing behavior, spending

12/09/2009 12:00 AM

03/25/2010 11:53 PM

A House panel likely will decide today if Gov. Mark Sanford should be the first impeached executive in South Carolina history.

Members of the seven-member panel say the vote will likely set a precedent for judging future governors' conduct.

Sanford has been under scrutiny since June, when he left the state for five days for a secret Argentina rendezvous with his lover. Since then, the media, S.C. State Ethics Commission investigators and lawmakers have reviewed Sanford's entire record, from his use of state aircraft and campaign funds to whether he coerced his staff to lie on his behalf and planned a 2008 South American trade trip as a cover for his extramarital affair.

Lawmakers already are considering one impeachment charge - for abandoning his duties - and will debate a second today. No matter the outcome of today's vote, the full Judiciary Committee will debate impeachment Dec. 16.

Sanford's attorneys have argued that nothing the governor did meets the "serious crimes" or "serious misconduct" standards required by the state constitution, and the unlike other impeached governors, Sanford has not been charged with or convicted of a felony.

The full House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet next week, which could end the impeachment questions or send the matter to the full House for a vote.

"I think it is" a historic moment, said Rep. James Smith, D-Richland and a member of the impeachment panel. "I'm treating it like that."

Most committee members have not committed to whether or not Sanford deserves impeachment. The panel has relied mostly on public documents, interviews and media accounts. The panel has yet to ask for subpoena power or forced Sanford to answer questions directly.

Lawmakers during the hearings have criticized Sanford's behavior, arguing he used a 2008 South American trade trip as a cover for his affair, and that similar behavior in the military or private sector likely would have cost him his job.

But the committee also has drawn a line at what should not be impeachable, throwing out all but five of 38 Ethics Commission charges against the governor.

Sanford will face a January Ethics Commission hearing on those charges, which carry a total possible fine of $74,000.

Today's debate will lay out where the dividing lines are among House members.

Ross Garber, attorney for the governor's office, said the House committee has taken the proper, methodical approach with the charges.

"No (S.C.) governor has ever been impeached before," Garber said, noting the state's "high and rigorous impeachment standard."

"The facts reflect the governor hasn't committed serious crimes or serious misconduct."

Smith, like most members of the committee, takes the responsibility seriously.

"It will set a standard when we take a vote," Smith said. "It will be a yardstick by which others are judged."

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