Cover Story: Gov. Sanford impeachment begins

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WBTV) - The Mark Sanford impeachment train is headed down the tracks.  Hearings to oust the South Carolina governor began on Tuesday.  In our Cover Story, PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson explores what Sanford's opponents will have to do to have him removed from office.

Seven House members met for the first time on Tuesday to consider the impeachment of Governor Mark Sanford.  It's expected to be a long process, and cost a lot of money.

These meetings taking away attention from the some of the state's more pressing problems, like tackling the state's double-digit unemployment rate.

So the question for some becomes do lawmakers deal with the Sanford issue, or get down to other state business?

Because the process has started, doesn't mean it's a done deal.  Lawmakers in Columbia realize they're dealing with weighty matters here.

It's not easy to impeach a governor.  And it's never been done before in South Carolina.

Lawmakers left and right have called for Mark Sanford to resign, the easy part and so far he's refused.

But going through the formal proceedings to force the governor from office - much harder to do.

The first step toward removal however took place Tuesday.

State representative from Chester County Greg Delleney introduced a bill heard Tuesday in the House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee to oust Sanford.

"He left his post," said Delleney.  "He left his state. He left his country without notifying anyone in authority. He was in effect AWOL."

The impeachment resolution in its current form deals just with Sanford's disappearance.. abandoning the state and his office for five days in June to secretly visit his lover in Argentina.. which some believe is an impeachable offense.

Others say it doesn't rise to that level.. including obviously the governor.

"That's up to them," said Sanford.  "One doesn't control one's critics."

However, if a separate investigation underway by the State Ethics Commission finds ethics and or criminal violations against Sanford.. impeachment may come easier.

Winthrop University Political Scientist Dr. Karen Kedrowski says, "There's a real concern about making sure that they move forward with impeachment only for truly serious offenses.. because they don't want to be accused of wasting the public's time and the public's money."

To impeach Governor Sanford will take a two-thirds majority in the South Carolina House, 83 of its 124 members.  Then there would be a trial in the state senate where two-thirds of senators, 31 out of 46 would have to convict.  Only then would Sanford be removed.

"Thank you Boeing.. thank you all."

While Sanford tries to go about his business, celebrating Boeing expanding its facilities in the Charleston area, the State Ethics Commission will hear the charges against the governor early next year.. if it finds little if any wrongdoing.. the drive to remove Sanford could die.

At any rate-- political watchers say it promises to get very interesting.

"It's a great, interesting times to be studying politics," says Kedrowski.

A House Judiciary Committee hopes to have articles of impeachment ready to go for the full House of Representatives when the South Carolina Legislature convenes in January.

A long process ahead, that started Tuesday.

How much time does Sanford have left in office?

He's a lame duck, cannot run again. And he'll have just about a year left in his term when lawmakers go back to Columbia next year.

If this were to play out this would be the second governor impeached in America in a year, the last time was in January, Illinois lawmakers impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich.