Columbia, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina's lieutenant governor called on Gov. Mark Sanford to resign Wednesday, promising to put aside his own political ambitions if that convinces fellow Republicans wary of elevating him to urge Sanford to step down.
Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer is now the most prominent state Republican pressing for Sanford's resignation two months after the governor came under fire for sneaking away to a secret rendezvous with his Argentine mistress.
"It is my opinion the best interest of the people of South Carolina can no longer be served by the current administration," Bauer said. "The serious misconduct that has been revealed along with lingering questions and continuing distractions make it virtually impossible for our state to solve the critical problems we're facing without a change in leadership."
Sanford has said before he has no plans to resign, but his spokesman did not return several calls and e-mails Wednesday.
Bauer said he tried to give his fellow Republican the benefit of the doubt after he admitted his affair with the Argentine woman, but the state has been paralyzed by questions raised afterward about the legality of Sanford's official travel. Bauer said he worries calls for Sanford's impeachment will dominate next year's legislative session instead of issues like the economy and job creation.
Bauer was widely expected to run for governor in 2010 but said he will not if that's what it takes to encourage other Republicans to call for Sanford's resignation. Some had been wary, fearing Bauer would get a long-term tryout for the job if Sanford stepped down.
"If taking me out of the governor's race makes this happen, and we move forward quickly, then yes, I'm willing to forgo the opportunities that I may have to be the next governor for four or eight years in the best interests of the people of South Carolina," Bauer said.
Sacrificing the run for governor next year could boost Bauer's status in the state GOP but still allow the 40-year-old plenty of time for another election. His announcement comes a day after the first formal gubernatorial campaign news conference by Republican Attorney General Henry McMaster.
Bauer has always been Sanford's lieutenant governor, but South Carolina voters choose the officials separately and the two have had a rocky relationship. Some of Bauer's friends in the Legislature are among Sanford's biggest critics and Sanford's estranged wife supported a Bauer opponent in the 2006 GOP primary.
Sanford has come under scrutiny since he returned from a nearly weeklong disappearance in June to admit he had been in Argentina visiting his mistress. His staff had been led to believe he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
The governor told The Associated Press his mistress was his soul mate, and AP investigations since have found Sanford used state planes for personal and political trips, which state law prohibits. He also failed to disclose trips on private plans that ethics officials say should have been made public in campaign and ethics filings.
An AP investigation in July showed the governor took pricey flights on commercial airlines for overseas trips despite a law requiring state employees to use lowest-cost travel. A state senator investigating those flights has said six of them broke the law and the state attorney general has called for an ethics probe.
The governor says he has done nothing wrong and claims the AP has mischaracterized his flights on private planes. He says he flew in more expensive seats on commercial flights because he needed to be well rested on economic development trips, which other governors have done. His office also has claimed the law restricting such use is no longer valid.
His wife has moved out of the governor's mansion with the couple's four sons but says she and her husband are working on their marriage.
South Carolina's lieutenant governor called on Gov. Mark Sanford to resign Wednesday, promising to put aside his own political ambitions if that convinces fellow Republicans wary of elevating him to urge Sanford to step down.