By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 7:05 PM
South Carolina lawmakers investigating Gov. Mark Sanford voted Wednesday not to impeach the embattled Republican for his use of state-sponsored travel and for abandoning his official duties this summer when he secretly visited his Argentine mistress.
The seven-member panel instead voted unanimously to formally censure Sanford over his behavior, passing a resolution saying that the governor was derelict in his duty and brought "ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame" to the state.
The House judiciary subcommittee's 6 to 1 vote against impeachment all but erases the possibility that Sanford could be forced from office before he finishes his second term in January 2011.
Sanford has been under fire since June, when he returned from a mysterious five-day absence and tearfully admitted an extramarital affair. He was in Argentina visiting his mistress but led his befuddled staff to tell reporters that he had been hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The full House Judiciary Committee will vote on the impeachment resolution next week, but House Speaker Robert W. Harrell Jr. (R) said it is unlikely to overturn the decision. "His actions were embarrassing and disgraceful for our state but didn't rise to the level of being removed from office," Harrell said.
Rep. F. Gregory Delleney Jr. (R), the lone member who voted to impeach Sanford, told reporters that Sanford "has lost all moral authority to lead this state." But Rep. James H. Harrison (R), who headed the subcommittee, told the Associated Press: "We can't impeach for hypocrisy. We can't impeach for arrogance. We can't impeach an officeholder for his lack of leadership skills."
Still, Sanford will not escape scrutiny. The State Ethics Commission is considering 37 charges against Sanford involving his campaign fundraising and his travel after an Associated Press investigation that found he used state planes for personal and political trips.
Sanford issued a statement Wednesday saying that despite his "moral failing," allegations that he misused state funds are "just not correct. . . . If there had been any oversight, it was minor and technical in nature."
Since June, a majority of state lawmakers from both parties have called on Sanford to resign, but he has pledged to serve out his term. The politics of removing him have been complicated by the intense battle to succeed Sanford, with some legislative leaders resisting his departure because it would elevate Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R) to the governor's office and give him a leg up in the 2011 election.
With 13 months remaining in his term, Sanford said he intends to "finish strong, focusing on the economic challenges facing our state." But some political leaders doubt what he can accomplish.
"South Carolinians have long since given up on Sanford's failed governorship," said Carol Fowler, chairwoman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. "The best we can hope for is that he won't cause our state any more embarrassment in the remaining months of his term."