House votes to censure Sanford, resolution moves to Senate

By Drew Stewart - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - South Carolina representatives voted Wednesday to formally rebuke Governor Mark Sanford in the aftermath of his tearful confession of an affair with an Argentine woman.

House lawmakers voted 102-11 on Wednesday to censure Sanford for bringing "ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame" to himself and the state. The rebuke says the two-term Republican was derelict in his duty and abused his power.

It has no practical effect on the final year of Sanford's tenure. State law prevents him from running again.

Before the vote, Sanford said he wouldn't attend the session or watch and would have no comment. "It is what it is," Sanford said.

Sanford has been under scrutiny since his June revelation of an affair that included a trip to see a woman after telling staff he was going to hike on the Appalachian Trail. He still faces civil ethics charges over travel on state planes.

The House Judiciary Committee had considered impeaching Sanford in December, but decided against it. The governor ignored calls to resign after he returned and tearfully confessed an affair with the woman he later called his soul mate.

During the House's debate over the resolution Wednesday, Rep. Harry Ott commented that politicians should be held to a higher standard. Ott said he hoped state lawmakers live up to the standard set by the censure.

"As we begin this New Year and this new legislative session, it is time for us to turn the page on this dark chapter, and focus our state on the many serious issues we face this year," said House Speaker Bobby Harrell. "Our citizens want lawmakers focused on moving South Carolina forward. Our ability to successfully land Boeing and the thousands of jobs they will create is the beginning of this new brighter chapter for our state."

A notable 'nay' vote on the resolution came from Rep. Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat who was one of the first to call for Sanford's resignation. In December, Rutherford said a regular state employee would be fired for disappearing from the state for five days as Sanford did.

"The resolution that has passed does not require the governor to wear a scarlet letter on his forehead or anything or get a letter from his mommy even," said Rutherford.

The censure resolution still requires state Senate approval for passage. State Sen. Jake Knotts of Lexington wants the resolution sent to a committee for review, and Senate leaders say that will likely kill it.

"It needs to be sent to committee and it needs to be looked at like any bill that comes up here," said Knotts.

Sanford's wife and sons have since moved out of the governor's mansion in Columbia. Jenny Sanford filed for divorce and Mark Sanford has asked a judge to OK her request. She is now writing a memoir due out next month.

The censure rebukes Mark Sanford for "dereliction in his duties of office, for official misconduct in office and for abuses of power while in office that has brought ridicule and dishonor to himself, the state of South Carolina, and to its citizens."

In addition to the censure, Sanford also faces up to $74,000 in fines from the State Ethics Commission, which contends he broke more than three dozen laws involving travel in pricey airline seats, using state aircraft for personal and political trips and improper reimbursements.

Many of the charges stem from a series of Associated Press investigations; only a handful were considered by the lawmakers debating impeachment.

The governor, who has denied wrongdoing in his travel practices, is the first South Carolina governor to face censure. Only eight U.S. governors have been removed by impeachment, and the only two removed in the last 80 years each faced criminal charges.

One of Sanford's visits to his mistress was in 2008 during a taxpayer-funded trip to South America that was supposed to be an economic development mission. The other was the June trip.

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