(This story was originally sent to broadcast affiliates Thursday afternoon but was not web posted until Fri. due to technical issues)
A South Carolina House subcommittee considering the impeachment of Gov. Mark Sanford decided after meeting only 30 minutes today that it will not consider certain charges pass on from the state Ethics Commission.
Those charges relate specifically to Sanford using the more expensive business-class tickets rather than economy-class to fly overseas, and also allegedly reimbursing himself from campaign funds.
The panel voted to remove 28 of 37 counts and leave them in the hands of the Ethics Commission, which is still investigating Sanford’s case.
Attorney Butch Bowers said the law concerning the use of economy-class tickets only applies specifically to state employees, not necessarily to constitutional officers or public officials. A letter to Chairman Jim Harrison from Bowers asserted that the Ethics Commission has no jurisdiction over ticket purchases.
But Chairman Harrison said regardless of other arguments, he did not believe that the use of business-class tickets warranted impeachment.
“I don’t feel that these flights dealing with business and first-class flights rises to the level of serious mis-conduct or a serious offense,” said Harrison. “I would move that the committee not consider counts one through 18.”
Harrison says the charges that his subcommittee rejected still lie in the hands of the Ethics Commission. “I think at some point,” the Chairman said, ” to give some guidance as part of this process to the Ethics Commission as to how we feel about some of these flights.”
Democrat James Smith told Bowers that after many years of protesation about his frugality, as a governor, and a congressman before that, that Sanford should receive a “conviction of hypocrisy.”
Bowers responded he could present evidence of 230 flights over a 22 year period where five previous governors had also taken expensive flights.
Harrison then addressed Bowers, seconding Smith’s opinion. “I’ll defend Mr. Smith just a little bit,” said Harrison. “I think what’s he’s driving at is that, even though past governors have probably done the exact same thing, when you hold yourself out as a champion of frugality then you probably get a little more closer scrutiny than you would have gotten.”
But Harrison says even after the dismissal of most counts, the most serious questions have yet to be answered. “I still think the strongest argument is Representative Delleney’s argument that the trip to Argentina without setting a chain of command before he left is the most serious issue we were going to discuss all along. The most serious issue is still there.”
On Monday the panel will take up the issue of the governor’s trips to Argentina, including his going there on a leg of a development trip to Brazil, and his disappearance from South Carolina when he went to Argentina on his own this past June.