COLUMBIA — Charleston Republican and Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell said Wednesday that the speculation over a vacancy in the state’s second highest office is premature.
McConnell, the Legislature’s highest-ranking lawmaker, said Lt. Gov. Ken Ard has neither been indicted, nor resigned. Political circles, however, are flush with speculation over whether McConnell will step up as the next lieutenant governor or open the position to a Senate colleague, amid Ard’s campaign ethics problems.
McConnell, who has represented Charleston’s District 41 since 1981, said he doesn’t know what he would do if Ard leaves office.
“I have not made up my mind on anything other than to discharge the duties of my job as president pro tem of the Senate,” McConnell said. “I am not out seeking out the office of lieutenant governor. I am (weighing) my love of representing District 41 in the South Carolina Senate and my duty under the constitution. I am just not sure what I would do at this point.”
Ard, a first-term Republican from Florence, is under fire for his personal use of campaign funds after his November election. Ard told a reporter with the Free Times, a Columbia alternative weekly newspaper, early this year that he was trying to recoup as much of his own cash from his campaign account as possible. That sparked an investigation from the state Ethics Commission that resulted in Ard paying the second largest fine in state history last month.
Since then, Attorney General Alan Wilson, also a Republican, said he is reviewing the situation to see if Ard should be subject to a criminal investigation. The review is ongoing and Wilson has not indicated when he would issue a decision.
Ard, meanwhile, has not made any public comments since he said in late June that he accepts responsibility for any mistakes he made. Ard did not immediately return a message left at his office this morning.
If Wilson recommends that the State Law Enforcement Division investigate Ard, the lieutenant governor would not likely be kicked out of office, but suspended.
If Ard is suspended, the Senate would not need to select a new lieutenant governor. If Ard would resign that would set in motion a series of events. Constitutionally, McConnell would become the lieutenant governor, having been selected by his colleagues as Senate president pro tem, a position he has held since 2001. That would create a vacancy in his Senate district. An election for lieutenant governor wouldn’t be held until Ard’s term ends in more than three years.
If McConnell decides not to step up as lieutenant governor, he would temporarily resign his position as president pro tem and the body would elect a new president pro tem to immediately take over Ard’s job.
Many have speculated that McConnell may be reluctant to step into the position, because the lieutenant governor holds much less influence than the president pro tem. The lieutenant governor oversees the state Office on Aging and presides over the Senate, reading bills into the record and answering constitutional questions as they arise. It is a part-time job that pays less than $50,000.
McConnell controls the agenda in the Senate by navigating the rules and building consensus among the 46 senators. He is also chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, a powerful position in itself because of the chairman’s ability to hold sway over legislation. Lawmakers’ jobs are considered part-time and pay an annual salary of $10,400 a year. As many others do, McConnell puts in full-time hours. He is a lawyer, but is not practicing.
Lawmakers and political observers have speculated on the senators who are waiting in the wings should McConnell pass on the lieutenant governor’s job. Names bandied about include Sens. Ronnie Cromer of Prosperity, John Courson of Columbia, Larry Martin of Pickens and David Thomas of Greenville, all Republicans.
John Crangle, state director for Common Cause, said he is building support for legislation to abolish the position of lieutenant governor, a bill that's been introduced in the past.
"There is no need for the position anymore," Crangle said Wednesday.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization which calls itself "an independent voice for change and a watchdog against corruption and abuse of power."
The line of succession in the constitution to replace the governor, should she be unable to serve, is president pro tem of the Senate, the House speaker, the secretary of state and the treasurer. Oversight of the Office on Aging could be transferred to another state agency.
"We're not going to be able to attract quality people to run for lieutenant governor because it has not been a springboard to run for governor is a long time," Crangle said.
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