COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina state representatives formally reprimanded a governor for the first time Wednesday, admonishing Gov. Mark Sanford for secret trips to see his Argentine mistress and improper use of state aircraft.
The lawmakers voted 102-11 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.
The issue came up a few hours later in the Senate, but was sidelined when a legislator said the resolution needed to be reviewed in a committee. Some Senate leaders have said their body may never vote on censure.
The censure 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 governor ignored calls to resign after he returned and tearfully confessed an affair with the woman he later called his soul mate.
The House Judiciary Committee had considered impeaching Sanford but decided against it.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have lived this nightmare for over seven months,” said Judiciary Chairman Jim Harrison, a Republican. “Our failure to take this action today would send a message to the governor and to the citizens of South Carolina that the governor’s conduct is acceptable in our eyes.”
The censure is on an unsure path in the Senate after Sen. Jake Knotts, a Republican and frequent Sanford critic, said legislators need more time to look at what Sanford has done, including what comes of the ethics charges.
“It wasn’t a pressing issue to get back to the United States from Argentina, so why should we rush to do something about it now,” Knotts said.
State Rep. Todd Rutherford was one of the handful voting against the measure Wednesday. The Democrat said in December that legislators would be “idiots” if they didn’t impeach Sanford.
“It’s nothing. It’s a total waste of time,” Rutherford said. “We’re not going to make him go sit in a corner. We’re not going to paint a scarlet letter on his forehead and make him wear a T-shirt. What is censure? I think even he thinks it’s a joke. So why bother.”
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. A hearing date has not been set.
Meanwhile, the state attorney general is reviewing the ethics investigation to see if criminal prosecution is warranted.
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.