The governor and gay-bashing in South Carolina

It became clear at last weekend's annual retreat of South Carolina Republican lawmakers that Gov. Mark Sanford is facing a battle for his political survival.

Angry over Sanford's confessed extramarital affair with an Argentinian woman and related allegations of misusing state funds, Sanford's fellow party members declined to take his side. The closest thing he got to a defense was when House Speaker Bobby Harrell called on his colleagues demanding Sanford's resignation or impeachment to wait for official findings of a State Ethics Commission investigation.

But Sanford is fighting back -- and some are charging that part of his strategy involves spreading rumors that the man who would take his place in the governor's mansion is gay.

As the Palmetto Scoop reported yesterday, prominent South Carolina state Sen. Jake Knotts sent a letter to fellow lawmakers in which the Republican accused unnamed Sanford supporters of taking part in an Internet whispering campaign against Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer:
"During the last two months, we have discovered plenty of solid reasons to remove our current governor from office; but now there's one more reason: the people trying to keep Sanford in power have stooped to a new low with this week's false character assassination of Bauer," Knotts wrote.
Knotts has not produced any proof tying Sanford's camp to the reports, but he says the campaign against the lieutenant governor resembles one used against him by Sanford allies during his last re-election campaign.

The controversy erupted when blogger Mike Rogers -- a gay activist featured in the documentary film "Outrage" about the secret lives of gay politicians -- reported that he has confirmed rumors that Bauer is gay. Rogers previously outed U.S. Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) and Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.).

Bauer, who has denied being gay, is a conservative Christian who supported a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in South Carolina. Last week Bauer called on Sanford to resign.

Sanford's office has denied Knotts' charges of rumor-mongering, with his spokesman calling them "wrong" and "bizarre."

Knotts' letter asked the House and Senate to "swiftly rid our state of this Governor."  In an interview with CNN, Knotts defended Bauer -- by implying gays are bad:
"I have known Andre since he was eight years old," Knotts told CNN. "Ain't a homosexual bone in his body. That boy is a good boy. It's a just an attempt to prevent Andre from [becoming] governor."
Knotts is the lawmaker who first raised questions about Sanford's mysterious absence from the state capital in June, before it was discovered that the governor had not gone hiking on the Appalachian Trail as he told his staff but left the country to visit his lover.

Sanford immediately resigned as head of the Republican Governors Association but has rejected calls to resign as governor. State lawmakers are reportedly preparing bills of impeachment and a special legislative session to consider his ouster.