I've heard this question over and over: Given everything that transpired with Gov. Mark Sanford, why hasn't the South Carolina legislature impeached him and removed him from office? It can't be because, like the governor, they are Republicans; state lawmakers of both parties, but especially the Republicans, have been at odds with Sanford for ages, well before his famous disappearance last June when he secretly met with his lover in Argentina.
One reason: As much as they don't like Sanford, many of them detest Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer even more. Bauer, also a Republican, would take over in the event Sanford was removed from office.
Seanna Adcox of the Associated Press calls Bauer "a fiercely ambitious Republican with a reputation for reckless and immature behavior. Adam Beam of The State, South Carolina's most influential newspaper, once laid out the case against Bauer:
Bauer is beloved by many. But his political career has been plagued by missteps both political and personal.
When Bauer was a state representative, he decided at the last minute to run for an open Senate seat, moving to Chapin and changing his voter registration on the last day of filing.
In 2003, while running late, Bauer ran two red lights in downtown Columbia before stopping for a police officer, who quickly pointed a gun at him. Originally charged with reckless driving, the lieutenant governor pleaded guilty to two lesser charges and paid a $311.25 fine.
In 2006, Bauer was pulled over by a state trooper after he was clocked at 101 mph on an interstate. Bauer used his state-issued radio to tell the officer he was "S.C. 2" -- code for lieutenant governor. He was not ticketed. When asked about it later, Bauer at first denied the story.
But Bauer has defended himself at every turn. He says "that officer was wrong," referring to the Columbia police officer who pulled a gun on him.
And he said he did not try to use his influence to get out of a speeding ticket -- and that he did not deny that he was pulled over.
"(The reporter) asked, 'Did you get a speeding ticket?' and I said 'no.' And that was the truth. Had he asked, 'Did you get pulled?' I'd have said 'yes.' And there is a vast difference there."
But some don't see the difference and wonder if Bauer has the credibility to restore respect to the governor's office should Sanford resign or be forced out.
"After a scandal, the person who comes in after has to rebuild trust between voters and this highest office," said Doug Woodard, political science professor at Clemson University. "Now you've got a problem. You've got a guy who's got a reputation of doing some reckless things." ...
Part of the mixed reaction to Bauer is that while he has made some real accomplishments -- he received positive reviews for his work on behalf of the elderly while serving as LG -- he has also shown a willingness to do whatever it takes in taking down his opponents, of either party, in campaigns or while in office. Last April, when beginning his campaign for the 2010 gubernatorial race, in which Sanford is term limited, he hired Chris LaCivita to run it -- the same Chris LaCivita, wrote The State's Beam, who was "one of the minds behind the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth campaign" against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Sources in S.C. have said that Bauer and/or his people have been conducting an anti-Sanford whispering campaign for the better part of a year, and that LaCivita would relish taking down Sanford as he did Kerry.
(In 2006, during his campaign for renomination as lt. gov., Sanford's now-estranged wife Jenny supported Bauer's primary opponent.)
Of course, hitting Bauer for being "ambitious" or "willing to do whatever it takes" is somewhat laughable; that defines nearly every politician on the face of the earth. But with Bauer, it seems to be somewhat personal; a lot of them just don't like him. Hence the spreading of rumors, for example, about his sexual orientation. (Asked if he is gay, Bauer, who is 40 and unmarried, said, "One word, two letters. 'No.' Let's go ahead and dispel that now.") But the rumors and innuendo continue.
Bauer made headlines again last Thursday when he compared people who take public assistance to stray animals. Here's the account by The State's Roddie Burris:
In a speech at a town hall meeting in the Upstate, Bauer revisited instructions he said his grandmother had given him when he was a small child. Bauer said his grandmother, who was not highly educated, had told him to stop feeding stray animals.
"You know why?" he asked. "Because they breed. You're facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a human ample food supply."
Bauer quickly apologized for his remarks. He later said "his intent was to explain the government is 'breeding a culture of dependency' with its social program, which he said has grown out of control and 'amounts to little more than socialism, paid for by hardworking, tax-paying families ... against their wishes.'" He said he regretted what he said "because now it's being used as an analogy, not a metaphor."
The feeling in the state was that, in the words of Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon, "The comments came across as unnecessarily cruel, and perhaps a bit tin ear. However, I do believe the message was delivered."
And that message, sent to social conservatives, is that (according to Huffmon's interpretation of what Bauer said), "personal responsibility is a key both to salvation and success. ... Subsidizing people with social welfare takes away the incentive to be responsible."
And so, while Democrats criticized Bauer for what he said, his rivals for the GOP gov nomination have for the most part given him a pass. Attorney General Henry McMaster said he hopes the Dems "will now stop their cynical effort to inflame passions and exploit the issue for political gain." Rep. Gresham Barrett said, "Unfortunately, on campaign trails, people misspeak." Only state Rep. Nikki Haley seemed mildly critical. Her campaign spokesman said, "If that's the kind of thing the lieutenant governor wants to focus his campaign on, that's of his prerogative."
Five Democrats are also running for governor.
Primary: June 8.
UPDATE: In a Twitter message, "JoePolitic" writes of Bauer, with some incredulity, "He's a bad man because he gets out of speeding tickets? Is that meant to be funny? That happens ALL the time." I share Joe's skepticism. There's something about Bauer that drives Republicans nuts, and I agree, it can't be over the speeding tickets. I need to dig deeper.