Impeachment Hearings Against Sanford Begin

South Carolina lawmakers began impeachment hearings Tuesday against Gov. Mark Sanford. The legislators began a hearing on the governor's five-day absence in June when he went to Argentina to meet his lover and left no one in charge of the state. Cindi Scoppe, associate editor of The Slate newspaper, says Sanford and the legislature had been at odds even before the scandal.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS. host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

There is no rule book for how to govern South Carolina right now. The state is in a peculiar position, set off by numerous charges against its governor, Republican Mark Sanford. Today, a subcommittee in the South Carolina House Of Representatives is considering a measure that could lead to the governor's impeachment. And yesterday, the State Ethics Commission announced 37 charges against him, charges of breaking state ethics laws. It left us wondering if any one in South Carolina has anytime for the business of governing right now. And to find out the answer of that question, we're joined by Cindi Scoppe. She is the associate editor for The State newspaper, that's in South Carolina's capital, Columbia. Welcome, to the program.

Ms. CINDI SCOPPE (Associate Editor, The State): Thanks, Michele, great to be here.

NORRIS: So, with all this going on, with the ethics investigation and questions about whether or not the governor might face criminal prosecution, is anything actually getting done in the state? Is there any governing that's actually going on?

Ms. SCOPPE: Well, I suppose depending on your perspective, you could say unfortunately or perhaps fortunately in the state of South Carolina the governor has very little power. So the business of the state is not being ignored. In fact, Governor Sanford has had less interest in governing than any governor that most people can recall. Our main concern´┐Ż

NORRIS: You mean before this scandal erupted?

Ms. SCOPPE: Yes, even before this scandal. He has been very interested at politics. He was very interested, most people believe, in running for president. He is not been exactly a hands-on governor.

NORRIS: Now this hands-off approach that you're describing will be surprising to many of our listeners because they remember when he took a stand and said my state will not accept stimulus dollars.

Ms. SCOPPE: Well, and I guess I'm taking about the actual process of governing a state. Yes, he is very politically involved. And that sort of was the final straw in an already tense relationship with the governor when he said we are not going to take stimulus dollars. Because the legislature and much of the state was pretty well united in opposition to him on that.

NORRIS: Well, there are some big issues that the state is considering right now: coastal issues, a question of whether or not to raise tuition in the state university system, roads funding, you know, some high-dollar, big-ticket issues. Is the legislature continuing to chug along on these issues, even while the governor is fighting these charges?

Ms. SCOPPE: Yes and no. You know, one of our real concerns - in fact, our major concern has been how the whole impeachment fight is going to affect the ability of our legislature to do its job. The legislature in South Carolina meets from January through June. And frankly because this is such a legislative state, there's not a whole lot of decisions that get made between July and December. Legislators will tell you that they are sort of working in the background trying to think about what they are going to do come January, and that the whole situation with the governor has distracted them somewhat from that.

NORRIS: Is there much talk about a Sanford replacement, should he be impeached or decide to step down?

Ms. SCOPPE: Well, yes, in fact, that's something that has driven a lot of the thinking about this. If Mr. Sanford were impeached or if he were to step down, the lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer, would automatically become governor. Mr. Bauer is one of five Republicans and one of 10 candidates who's running for Mr. Sanford's job. The election is next year. There is a lot of concerns in our state about Mr. Bauer and his fitness to be governor, and frankly, that's the number one reason that our editorial board has not even called yet on the governor to resign because of our concerns about Mr. Bauer assuming that office.

NORRIS: Cindi Scoppe, thanks so much for talking with to us.

Ms. SCOPPE: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: Cindi Scoppe is the associate editor of The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina.

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