HICKS COLUMN: McConnell again follows his calling

When Glenn McConnell was sworn in as lieutenant governor last year, he was a pretty sad guy.

All he'd ever wanted to do was be the senator from District 41, serve as Senate president pro tem and chair the Judiciary Committee. Check, check and check.

But thanks to the ethical shortcomings of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, McConnell's entire life changed. Ard resigned three months into his term and the state constitution said the pro tem had to take his place.

McConnell's friends urged him to step down as pro tem, and sidestep the demotion. But McConnell had too much character to play technicalities with the constitution — so he moved from one of the most powerful positions in state government to one that, well, isn't.

Now McConnell is preparing to run for re-election for the job. The question is: why?

Fate.

A hand up

Lieutenant governor is a largely ceremonial position. For years its only duties were to fill in for the governor and preside over the Senate.

Former Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer got the Office of Aging added to the job description — a move that cynics suspected was intended to court seniors for future campaigns.

When McConnell stepped in, he knew he could run out the clock — or try to do something. He decided to study up on the Office of Aging, and the complexities of seniors' issues floored him.

Right now, there are 8,000 people on a waiting list to get into Medicaid beds in nursing homes. That number will double in the next 15 years.

That's going to be expensive.

Truth is, seniors are like the rest of South Carolinians, fiercely independent. They want to live on their own as long as possible, but they need help — a hand up, not a hand out, McConnell says.

Maybe that's someone to bring them a meal a day, or mow their yard. There are programs to do these things, but the budget has been cut by lawmakers. The Office on Aging needs $5 million. And McConnell's trying to get it.

Because it is, as he says, 35 times cheaper to provide a couple of services and keep these folks in their homes than to pay for a Medicaid bed. Pay a little on the front end, save a lot on the back end.

He calls it “the mission ahead.”

Courting McConnell

The lieutenant governor won't even be a separate office starting in 2018 — it will simply become the governor's running mate.

The Office on Aging will revert to the governor's office, where it will compete with a lot of other pressing needs.

So McConnell says he has four more years to get this done. But it doesn't come without sacrifice. Again.

See, the Legislature would like to appoint McConnell chief justice of the state Supreme Court pretty soon.

He would dearly love that job but now says it's more important to finish this job that he didn't want in the first place.

“I'd never close the door on anything,” he says. “But this is what fate has put in my hands. And these people have touched my heart.”

Fate is funny like that. Too bad more politicians aren't as mature as McConnell.

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