Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Obviously, having an extramarital affair is not an impeachable offense. But, leaving the state without informing the lieutenant governor might be one. Even before the affair became public, some members of the South Carolina legislature were talking about impeachment, as the Southern Political Report noted:Southern Political Report has learned from well-placed sources that some members of the South Carolina legislature are considering an effort to impeach Gov. Mark Sanford after revelations that he spent nearly a week in Argentina without disclosing where he was or providing means of communication.
The South Carolina Constitution is broad in its description of the duties of the governor and under what circumstances impeachment may be considered. The most likely scenario would fall under the Constitution's provision that a governor may be impeached by the state House and then tried by the state Senate for removal from office if found guilty of "serious crimes or serious misconduct in office."
This morning, I would have told you that the impeachment talk was implausible. However, one lesson from the Rod Blagojevich drama was that impeachment is as much a political process as it is a legal process. The political damage that Sanford has sustained from admitting his affair shouldn't have anything to do with whether he's impeached. But, it might make impeachment more likely.
The South Carolina legislature is controlled by Republicans, but many of these Republicans are Sanford's foes. He can't count on his party to stand with him.
There's one thing that might work in Sanford's favor, however: If Sanford is removed form office, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer would take over for him.
Bauer is Republican who's been elected twice, independently of Sanford. He was a state senator when he was first elected lieutenant governor at the age of 33. In the office, his maturity became an issue. Here's a summary of his driving history, as reported by The State in 2006 (no link available):
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer was pulled over - but not ticketed - by S.C. Highway Patrol officers for doing 101 mph on the night of Feb. 25, after using a police radio in his state vehicle to try to communicate with troopers.
Bauer, 37, was also stopped on Dec. 26 in Laurens County for doing 77-78 mph in a 65 mph zone on Interstate 385 and was given a written warning after the trooper recognized him.
Bauer has had trouble with his driving before. He received tickets for running a red light and speeding through downtown Columbia in May 2003 in an incident that led to a city police officer pointing his gun at the lieutenant governor.
These incidents made Bauer vulnerable when he sought reelection in 2006. He actually placed second in the first round of voting in the Republican primary, before narrowly winning the runoff. In the general election, he won by only 3,200 votes, even as Sanford won reelection by 112,000 votes.
Bauer seems to have settled down in his second term and he is popular with conservatives. He has played a role in the drama of the last few days in a way that could either be perceived as responsible or self-serving. Here's the Huffington Post:
Lt. Gov. Andrew Bauer said he'd been rebuffed by the governor's staff when he tried to find out where Sanford was and had not been put in charge in his absence.
"I cannot take lightly that his staff has not had communication with him for more than four days, and that no one, including his own family, knows his whereabouts," said Bauer.
If the legislature goes the impeachment route, they'd also be stepping into a hot primary contest. Bauer is already a presumed candidate for governor next year, when Sanford is term-limited. The Republican field also includes Attorney General Henry McMaster, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and State Rep. Nikki Haley. Will Republicans who don't support Bauer really want to give him a leg up by making him governor?
The answer may be yes. If public opinion is strong enough against Sanford, legislators may feel they have no choice but to seek his removal from office. They may also feel that Sanford has genuinely engaged in serious misconduct.
Still, Bauer's chances of becoming governor will probably improve a little bit if he strikes a confident, reassuring tone. If he wants to become governor, he should also act as though he isn't too desperate to become governor. That's exactly the tone he's taking, according to Politico:South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said in an interview that he was prepared to be governor should Gov. Mark Sanford resign in the wake of disclosing an extramarital affair.
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