SC impeachment debate to stretch through holiday season
If South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford were impeached, he would be the first in the state's history. Lawmakers began impeachment deliberations yesterday, but made no decision. The debate will continue for at least the next few weeks. WFAE's Julie Rose reports: It will be a busy holiday season for the seven lawmakers on the House impeachment panel. They have several meetings scheduled for the next two weeks. Then, the entire House Judiciary Committee will hold another series of meetings and make a decision on impeachment by the end of the year. House Speaker Bobby Harrell says the holiday meetings show how seriously lawmakers are taking the issue. "And it shows the efforts we are going to take to address this matter in a timely manner so that come January, we will be fully prepared to begin working on the issues that South Carolinians care about the most," said Harrell, in a short address to the committee. Lawmakers are eager to not be seen spending precious legislative time debating Governor Sanford's behavior instead of the budget deficit and unemployment. But why is it even a debate, when the majority of lawmakers have already said they want Sanford gone? The reason is that it takes a lot to impeach a Governor. Lawmakers need to show clear evidence he committed serious crimes or serious misconduct. The 37 ethics violations Sanford has been charged with are not criminal violations. So now lawmakers have to decide if those ethics violations amount to serious misconduct. Those violations aside, Representative Greg Delleney says the Governor's main offense was going to Argentina for five days without telling anyone where he went or how to contact him. "And that conduct alone constitutes a dereliction of duty," says Delleney. "He left his post. He left this state. He left the country without notifying anyone in authority. He was in effect AWOL." Delleney drafted the impeachment resolution the panel is considering. He's also the only one of the seven members who has declared a stance on impeachment. The others say they'll wait to consider all the evidence before making up their minds. And there's clearly some doubt. Representative Walton McLeod isn't sure the "dereliction of duty" charge even applies to the Governor, since it's not a military office. "To speak about 'dereliction of duty,' 'absent without leave,' 'abandoning one's post' - these are terms ordinarily reserve for those who are in uniform and who are not civilian citizens of our state and nation," says McLeod. Members of the panel are also uncertain whether Sanford violated the Constitution by not telling the Lieutenant Governor "While I'm gone for a few days, you're in charge." The Constitution does say that if the Governor is gone and there's an emergency, the Lieutenant Governor is automatically put in charge. That's what Representative Jenny Horne asked Delleney about. "I have some concerns, because I don't know there was an emergency," said Horne. "Can you address us that for us?" "Well, fortunately we didn't have the Myrtle Beach fires during that time," replied Delleney. "Fortunately there was no emergency." But the point, says Delleney, is the Governor should have told someone, and he didn't. The impeachment panel has asked for more details about what the Governor's staff knew and when during the five days Sanford was supposedly hiking the Appalachian trail but was actually visiting his mistress in Argentina. The panel may even call Sanford to testify in the coming weeks. And they will take a closer look at the 37 ethics charges against the Governor. Meanwhile, the Governor's office has hired a nationally-known impeachment expert, Connecticut Attorney Ross Garber. He says Sanford's secret getaway in June does not meet the standard for impeachment. The legislative panel will meet again next Tuesday.