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Sanford faces new calls to quit

House Republicans overwhelmingly asked Gov. Mark Sanford to resign Wednesday, saying South Carolina is “mired in a distraction.”

The letter, signed by 61 of 72 House Republicans, was delivered to Sanford on Wednesday.

Sanford said he has no plans to resign and called the letter premature with an ongoing State Ethics Commission investigation yet to release any conclusions. into Sanford’s travels and expenses.

Removing Sanford would require two-thirds of lawmakers to agree, and this call for him to resign indicates Sanford could face an uphill battle fighting an impeachment case expected later this year.

Sanford has been under fire since taking a secret five-day trip to Argentina and later admitting an extramarital affair. Subsequent media reviews of the governor’s travels raised questions about his use of business-class tickets on state trade missions, his use of the state plane and how he spent campaign funds.

Some House members have said they will push for Sanford’s impeachment this fall, but lawmakers noted there is a difference between asking Sanford to resign and two-thirds of lawmakers voting to remove him from office.

The caucus letter follows a Myrtle Beach meeting Aug. 29 at which no members spoke in Sanford’s defense. At the time, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, urged his caucus to wait on the State Ethics Commission, but on Tuesday, Harrell asked Sanford to resign.

House Republican leaders said Wednesday Sanford’s conduct was “inexcusable,” and he was a distraction from issues like job creation and others.

“The general sense of the Caucus is that the people of South Carolina have suffered enough as the result of your recent actions,” the letter said. “South Carolina needs to heal and take the steps necessary for a new beginning.”

Those signing the letter include some of Sanford’s key political and ideological allies. They include Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg and who formerly worked for Sanford, and Rep. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, whom Sanford endorsed in 2008 after earlier pushing for Scott to fill the vacant state treasurer post in 2007.

Sanford’s office said the letter was part of a politically motivated effort to railroad him from office.

“The caucus letter is both unpersuasive and unsurprising,” Sanford spokesman Ben Fox said in a statement. “Many of the Representatives signing on are indeed some of the same people who’ve fought consistently over the years to consolidate power in the legislative body and undermine the authority of the governor.”

At a Rotary meeting earlier in the day, Sanford said lawmakers should wait for the State Ethics Commission to issue their findings.

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, said Sanford should resign but was one of 11 House GOP members who did not sign the letter.

“I think we knew the governor’s position going in,” Merrill said. “Where do you go from there?”

Lexington County Rep. Nikki Haley, a Sanford ally and gubernatorial candidate, said the letter was a waste of time.

“Governor Sanford has made it clear that he will not step down,” Haley said in a statement. “So any further pressure in that direction is nothing more than political posturing, and that’s not what we as elected officials ought to be doing.”

Haley and Sanford share a political consultant, Maryland-based Jon Lerner.

House Democrats will gather in early October, and several lawmakers said the caucus could take a position on Sanford at the meeting.

“I’ve not heard a lot from Democrats at this point,” said Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland.

Sumter County Rep. Murrill Smith said he did not sign the letter because he was waiting on the State Ethics Commission, particularly with the House responsible for beginning impeachment proceedings against Sanford.

Both Merrill and Smith said calling for Sanford’s resignation is a long way from impeaching the governor — “a gulf,” according to majority leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington. Some lawmakers are urging leadership to call a special fall session to consider impeachment and will file an impeachment resolution in December, if not sooner.

While Smith said he is waiting on the State Ethics Commission to gather all the facts, Sanford’s fate is ultimately in the lawmakers’ hands.

“To prejudge it, in my opinion, is problematic,” Smith said of not signing the letter. “But at the same time, that’s politics. (Impeachment) is all in the political arena.”

Reach O’Connor at (803) 771-8358.

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