COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - A top South Carolina lawmaker called Tuesday for Gov. Mark Sanford to resign, accusing his fellow Republican of "gross misjudgment" stemming from his extramarital affair and potential misdeeds that have become a distraction and embarrassment to the state.
"Your actions have amounted to a self-inflicted wound that has forced unnecessary suffering on the people of South Carolina," House Speaker Bobby Harrell said in a letter to the governor.
"I mean there's been a lot of conversation about this for several weeks from a number of different folks," Harrell told WCSC. "This letter is from me specifically, not from the Republican caucus, or Republicans, or the house generally. It's a letter that I'm sending to the governor."
Sanford said in a prepared statement that he'd stay on and could focus on the job since he's no longer on the nation's political radar even though it would be easier to step down. He called the storm brewing around him "political gossip" that the public doesn't care about.
"So I'd humbly request the Speaker and his fellow legislative leaders put aside a whole lot of politics and look past media accounts, and indeed join with me in working for South Carolinians as our state faces real challenges going forward," Sanford said in the statement.
The call for Sanford's resignation from Harrell, a Charleston Republican, is the first from one of the Legislature's top officers. It comes less than two weeks after a similar call from the lieutenant governor and after GOP members of the House criticized the governor and threatened impeachment, but took no other action.
Harrell's letter is significant because he would largely decide how any effort to force Sanford from office plays out. One other lawmaker said it prefaces a similar upcoming call from other House Republicans.
"I know that other members are working on letters and I expect that he's going to receive several other letters in the coming days," said Harrell.
Sanford planned to appear on an evening talk radio show, fielding questions from callers.
The two-term governor has been under mounting scrutiny since his June revelation of a yearlong affair with a woman in Argentina. Three ensuing Associated Press investigations that raised questions about his travel have led one state senator to accuse the governor of breaking the law and also led to an ongoing state Ethics Commission investigation.
The AP investigations have shown that Sanford appears to have violated state law requiring lowest-cost travel when taking commercial flights; that he used state aircraft for personal and political trips, which is contrary to state law; and that failed to disclose flights on private planes.
Sanford said the media is sensationalizing it all.
Sanford has spent the past weeks apologizing to members of civic organizations for his affair, denying doing anything wrong when it comes to his travel and attempting to refocus on his final year agenda of restructuring government. Sanford, who is term limited, has accused critics and media outlets of mischaracterizing his flights and says he's being treated differently than other governors. His office recently asked state university officials to explain how they use state planes.
Harrell echoed Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer in saying the allegations are taking time and attention away from the state's more pressing issues.
"The daily trickle of allegations against you has shown that there is no end in sight to the constant distractions caused by you remaining in office," Harrell said.
He also said the circumstances of Sanford's June tryst with his mistress constituted "a gross misjudgment." The governor led his staff to believe he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail when he was actually in Argentina and has yet to explain how he was to be contacted in an emergency. Records show his staff tried to reach him unsuccessfully while he was out of the country.
"The events of the past several weeks have brought to light disturbing facts regarding you and your administration. More importantly, these events and your handling of these events have created an environment that makes it impossible for you to continue to lead our state," Harrell said.
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, said Tuesday that members of the caucus are still deciding what to do. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Columbia, said he expects a letter from the caucus later this week will call for Sanford's resignation.
While Sanford in interviews with the AP called his mistress his "soul mate," he and wife Jenny say they are trying to reconcile. She has moved with their four sons from the official residence in Columbia to the family's coastal home.
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