SC Governor
Virginia Postic  /  AP
S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford said Wednesday that Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's call for him to resign hours earlier was almost like "heaven on earth," but he plans to stay in office.
updated 8/28/2009 6:26:14 PM ET 2009-08-28T22:26:14

Calls are growing louder for Gov. Mark Sanford to resign over his extramarital affair and questionable travel on commercial, state and private planes.

Those who were on the fence are now calling for his resignation, and those who were demanding his resignation now say he should be impeached.

Even a leader of Sanford's own Republican party says the level of criticism is rising.

"I think it has ratcheted up everybody in the whole process because now we're talking about some very serious violations of ethics law at a minimum," state House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham said.

Bingham's caucus meets this weekend and expects to discuss removing one of their own. GOP leaders are beginning to see if there's the political will — and the numbers — to send Sanford packing, but any impeachment proceeding likely wouldn't happen until lawmakers returned in January.

Sanford has said it's time to move on from the controversy, claiming politics are at the heart of efforts to railroad him out of office. He said he has much to offer in his remaining 16 months and quitting would be the easy way out.

Video: Stop (Sanford) in the name of love Instead of stepping down, he's out on the road, telling civic and political groups he's sorry and seeking their help in pursuing an agenda that includes government streamlining and spending limits.

In July, it appeared Republicans were willing to let him stay put. At the time, they were dealing only with the news he disappeared for several days and led his staff to believe he was hiking along the Appalachian Trial. He returned from the trip to reveal he had been in Argentina with his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur.

Now, sentiment is turning and patience faltering. Ethics investigators have been asked to review issues raised by a state senator and in stories by The Associated Press about the governor's travel.

"It's one thing to have a personal issue. It's another thing to combine that with what could very well be some major ethics violations," said Bingham, R-Columbia.

Sanford said Friday he would waive confidentiality of a State Ethics Commission probe, but it was unclear if an investigation had begun. Sanford said he didn't know and the agency's leader said he can't confirm it.

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AP investigations have found Sanford used state planes for personal and political trips, which state law prohibits. He failed to disclose trips on private planes that ethics officials say should have been made public in campaign and ethics filings.

He also took pricey flights on commercial airlines for overseas trips despite a law requiring state employees to use lowest-cost travel.

Sanford has said the AP has "cherry-picked" the flights and that he has saved money by selling state aircraft and taking fewer trips than his predecessors. He also has said he doesn't think he has to report flights given by friends and family, and is particularly irked by Sen. David Thomas' investigation of his travels.

"When somebody says you broke the law, that's a big deal and you better be about the business of substantiating what you have said when you go out and make a claim like that," Sanford said at a news conference Thursday across the street from Thomas' office.

The travel revelations have been a game changer. The governor has always had few friends in the Legislature, but the latest details have some Republican lawmakers thinking it would be best to be rid of Sanford so Democrats don't try to exploit the controversy ahead of next year's statewide and state House elections.

Republican state Rep. Greg Delleney said he's ready to lead an impeachment effort in the House and is drafting a resolution. If no one else makes a move toward impeachment Saturday, Delleney said he'll push it.

"There's only one issue and that's premeditated dereliction of duty — from lying to his staff to covering his adulterous conduct up, leaving the state, leaving the continent for five days without telling anyone where he was going," Delleney said.

The caucus meeting could take the temperature of impeachment sentiment among Republicans, who control both the state House and Senate. If all 73 Republicans in the House, where impeachment proceedings would begin, were to vote to remove Sanford, they would need at least 10 of the 51 Democrats to agree in a two-thirds vote to send the issue to the state Senate.

The state Supreme Court's chief justice would preside and 46 senators — 27 of them Republicans — would decide Sanford's fate. At least 31 senators would have to vote to remove the governor.

The Legislature doesn't meet again until January. Impeachment proceedings before then would require the two top officers in the House and Senate to agree to move forward, but they don't have any current plans to do so.

Besides impeachment, the state constitution also allows the possibility for the comptroller general, secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general to force Sanford to step down if he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." Under a disability provision, three of those top officers would have to agree, but this week none of them said they support such a move.

One way or another, Sanford's days in office are limited — his final term ends in January 2011. Some of his closest allies in the House are even telling him it's time to leave.

State Reps. Nathan Ballentine of Irmo and Gary Simrill of Rock Hill, both Republicans, sat down with Sanford this week for nearly an hour trying to convince him it was time to go. Their constituents want Sanford gone and they say the state can't afford to spend the next 16 months mired in Sanford's fate rather than dealing with major problems, including persistently high unemployment and budget shortfalls.

Given those problems, the "impeachment process would be a severe distraction from where the state's focus needs to be," Simrill said.

But Sanford didn't budge.

"He's a fighter, he doesn't plan on going anywhere," said Ballentine. "If he's not going to listen to his friends, I don't think he's going to listen to anybody to resign."

More on Gov. Mark Sanford

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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