Friday, December 11, 2009
It's not over yet!
By Andy Brack
Anybody who thinks the potential impeachment of Gov. Mark Sanford is over isnâ€™t recalling the words of Yogi Berra.
â€œIt ainâ€™t over â€˜til itâ€™s over,â€ Berra said in 1973 when the come-from-behind New York Mets nabbed the pennant on the final day of the baseball season.
For South Carolina, the state obsession with Sanfordâ€™s peccadilloes is far from over, despite some sloppy and misleading reporting by some news outlets. While Sanford certainly dodged a hurdle this week, consider:
Process. This week, the House impeachment subcommittee voted 6-1 to not recommend impeachment to the full House Judiciary Committee. But just because a subcommittee says one thing, a full committee can say another. The full committee on Wednesday will take up whether to impeach the governor. Itâ€™s not often a full committee goes against the recommendation of a subcommittee, but itâ€™s been known to happen. And whenever 25 politicians get in a room over a hot political issue where theyâ€™re on the hot seat, well, you can fill in the blank.
House floor. Even if the House Judiciary Committee doesnâ€™t send an impeachment resolution to all 170 members of the House for consideration, something could happen on the floor during the 2010 session to bring the issue up for a vote. (It probably wonâ€™t happen, but could.)
S.C. Rep. James Smith, a Richland Democrat on the House subcommittee, voted against impeaching Sanford but said he believed the full House needed to settle the issue. â€œIâ€™ve always felt this was not a decision for seven members of the House,â€ he said in a phone interview. â€œImpeachment is a constitutional prerogative of the full House.â€
Ethics Commission. In a Wednesday statement, Sanford said the Judiciary subcommittee dismissed 32 of 37 ethics allegations against him. In the large scheme of things, thatâ€™s a little misleading because it makes it look like those charges are gone. In fact, the governor still faces action by the state Ethics Commission on all 37 violations of state ethics law. What the Judiciary subcommittee did had no impact on those allegations.
Attorney General. The jury still is out also whether Attorney General Henry McMaster will file criminal charges against the governor in relation to the civil ethics violations. While McMaster, a gubernatorial candidate, may have been waiting on the House before sticking his finger in the wind to determine what to do, there is the possibility that the Sanford saga could hit the criminal courts. (With the House moving forward on a censure resolution, this also isnâ€™t likely.)
Rep. Greg Delleney, the Chester Republican who is pushing hard for Sanfordâ€™s impeachment, said heâ€™s not giving up.
â€œIâ€™m not quitting until itâ€™s over.â€ He said, â€œAs long as I have a breath, Iâ€™m going to proceed.â€ When asked why, he said, â€œBecause itâ€™s the right thing to do.â€
On Wednesday, Delleney introduced a legal opinion into the record that another option existed for legislators who wanted to remove Sanford. Itâ€™s a little-known constitutional measure called â€œremoval by address.â€ It probably has never been used.
According to the opinion by Rutgers University Professor G. Alan Tarr, who runs the Center for State Constitutional Studies, South Carolina is one of the few states that offers â€œremoval by address.â€ Article XV, Section 3 of the state constitution allows the governor to remove â€œany executive or judicial officerâ€ for â€œany willful neglect of duty, or other reasonable cause.â€
As Tarr contemplates, itâ€™s unlikely Sanford would remove himself. But if the House and Senate passed a non-impeachment resolution to suspend Sanford from office and replace him with a temporary governor, the temporary governor could, in fact, send Sanford packing through the â€œremoval of addressâ€ option.
Yes, this complicated option is as likely as snow in July at Myrtle Beach, but to suggest the whole messy Sanford imbroglio is over just ainâ€™t so.
More than likely Sanford will be around until January 2011 when a new governor takes office. Until then, lawmakers need to deal with Sanfordâ€™s embarrassment to the state quickly, start concentrating on South Carolinaâ€™s big problems and push the increasingly irrelevant Sanford aside.
Andy Brack, publisher of S.C. Statehouse Report, can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.