Twelve of the 27 members of the state Senate's Majority Caucus now have signed a petition, calling for Gov. Mark Sanford to resign.
The latest Republican to sign was state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, chairman of the Senate's ethics committee.
Pressure is mounting Sanford to step down after he disappeared to Argentina for a week without telling anyone where he would be, confessed to an extramarital affair with an Argentine woman and acknowledged additional unspecified inappropriate relationships with a handful of other women.
Two additional senators considered among Sanford’s staunchest allies, also said they want him to resign though they did not sign the letter. Two other senior senators who spoke to the State said Tuesday’s revelations moved them closer to asking Sanford to step down.
The letter was crafted by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, and was circulated among Senate Republicans on Tuesday.
It marked a major break in the silence of the General Assembly, which has the authority to remove the governor. Senators have been debating what to do about Sanford since late last week, while House members have largely remained silent.
“I signed a letter today asking him to step down,” said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, chairman of the Senate Rules committee. •
Martin’s reaction came after Sanford told The Associated Press he had more romantic meetings with his Argentinian lover, Maria Belen Chapur, than he previously admitted, including two trysts in New York.
Sanford told the news agency he also had “crossed the line” with other women.
Attorney General Henry McMaster, who is mulling a run for governor, called on SLED to investigate the governor’s travel after the new confessions.
Gubernatorial candidate Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Camden, called for Sanford’s resignation.
So did Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Grooms said he privately urged Sanford to resign last week after his much-discussed confessional news conference. Grooms is generally a dependable vote for the governor’s policies.
“I am calling on the governor to resign,” Grooms said Tuesday after campaigning in the Upstate. “Our governor has lost the moral integrity to lead this state.”
Sanford’s spokesman, Joel Sawyer, reiterated Tuesday the governor will not step down.
“The governor felt it was important to get details out there and have a full accounting of what he’s done,” Sawyer said. “It doesn’t change the fact that there was no (additional) state money spent. He’s determined to remain on as governor and determined to continue the work of this administration.”
Martin said the additional revelations are what he feared most — a continual “seeping out” of Sanford indiscretions, which Martin said residents find most upsetting.
“It’s as though we’re looking at a completely different person — one we didn’t know existed,” Martin said of Sanford.
Lawmakers had been slow to call for Sanford to quit, many citing the need to first learn all the facts.
Now, some of Sanford’s strongest Senate allies are urging him to step aside.
“It’s time for him to resign,” said Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, who generally supports the governor’s agenda. “We’ve heard from some people in recent days who separate the bedroom from the board room. I don’t. I look at the whole character of a person, the decisions they make and their dealings with their families.”
Bryant said he did not sign the letter because it just didn’t feel right but believes the governor must go in order to salvage reform efforts.
“I do believe in forgiveness and reconciliation, but I think it will put back the reform movement that I’ve been a part of,” he said.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who would chair any forced ouster of the governor by the Republican-controlled Legislature, said it’s premature to heed calls from those in his own party to remove Sanford.
“I want to see what the investigation finds before I’m willing to discuss that topic,” said Harrell, a Charleston Republican.
State Law Enforcement Division director Reggie Lloyd said agents are reviewing documents supplied by Sanford’s office about his travels to determine whether any state laws have been broken.
“I have nothing, absolutely nothing that he used taxpayer money for anything (improper),” Lloyd told reporters late Tuesday.
Sanford paid the state back about $3,000 for a state-funded trip he took last year in which he saw his lover.
The inquiry — which Lloyd made clear is not a criminal investigation — will be completed in a “couple of days.”
Then SLED will address the questions posed by lawmakers and others about misconduct in office, adultery or misuse of public funds, Lloyd said.
Meanwhile, two other senior Republican senators said Tuesday they are closer to calling for Sanford to resign — but stopped short.
“I was already close to calling for his resignation,” said Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, who is 13th in Senate seniority, after the governor’s new revelations. “I think this just may push me over.”
Hayes, who is chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, said he, “owes it to the office of governor” to sleep on his decision. He said he would announce it today.
Richland Sen. John Courson, seventh in seniority, said his key concern had been whether Sanford’s trysts were at taxpayer expense.
But when Courson heard from a reporter that Sanford admitted Tuesday he “crossed the line” with a handful of women — though he denied having sex with them — Courson paused.
“That is troubling,” he said. “I would need further explanation of that from him.”
Yet Courson said the new disclosures push him closer to calling for the governor to resign.
Some Sanford allies are sticking by the governor’s side, including his former chief of staff and friend for more than 30 years, Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort.
“I do think he can be an effective leader,” said Davis Tuesday morning. “I don’t think he should resign.”
A third group of senators says they’re still undecided, including Sen. Mick Mulvaney, R-Lancaster, who was endorsed by Sanford in 2008.
Mulvaney said he does not know if the governor should resign.
“I’m trying to focus on what matters to the people of South Carolina, which is, did the governor do anything illegal? Did he misuse the office?” Mulvaney said.