South Carolina's reform movement suffered another blow Wednesday when Kelly Payne, a candidate for the Republican nomination for state superintendent of education, verified a series of leaked love e-mails to her came from Republican S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom.
Eckstrom is married. But he has been separated and living apart from his wife for two years, according to his re-election campaign. Payne, who is divorced, is a Dutch Fork High School teacher.
Eckstrom, 61, the state's top accountant, is one of the most influential members of the reform movement, which has pushed for smaller government, lower taxes and more accountability and transparency in state government. He holds one of the five seats on the State Budget and Control Board.
Eckstrom is the third high-ranking, statewide-elected Republican on that powerful board to become embroiled in a scandal:
_ Republican state Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, a Charleston Republican, resigned from office, losing his seat on the budget board, after he was charged with possessing cocaine in 2007.
_ Republican Gov. Mark Sanford of Sullivan's Island escaped demands that he resign and a move to impeach and remove him from office after he disappeared last summer for five days, only to return and acknowledge an affair with an Argentine woman.
Sanford, subsequently, repaid the state more than $3,000 for part of the state-paid costs of a trip to South America on which he saw his lover. Sanford still faces ethics charges and could face criminal charges.