COLUMBIA - A long-serving conservative Democrat said Thursday that he was considering a top S.C. Senate position that would allow him to become the state's next lieutenant governor.
It would be a rare opportunity for a Democrat, J. Yancey McGill from Kingstree, to lead a Republican-majority chamber, albeit briefly. McGill said in an interview that he was considering becoming Senate pro tempore, which would make him next in line to become lieutenant governor when Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell resigns to take his new job as president of the College of Charleston. McConnell said he would resign when it became clear who the new lieutenant governor would be, but no one had yet expressed a desire for the job.
McGill, 61, said he knows taking the post likely means the end of his 26-year Senate career. He could run again for his seat, but it would mean starting again as a freshman legislator.
"I didn't come up here for all that," he said about the political seniority. "There comes a time when you need to spend some time with your family. I enjoy other things, too."
While electing a Democrat as the Republican majority's leader would likely be a rare, if unprecedented move, McGill said that colleagues on both side of the aisle have encouraged him. He said the lieutenant governor's role would be a "golden opportunity" to work on seniors' issues and to work to give local districts more autonomy. McGill said he is aiming for a decision by June 17, when the Senate is back in session.
Former Senate president pro tempore John Courson, R-Columbia, said he supports McGill. Courson resigned the leadership post on Wednesday to avoid taking the lieutenant governor's job.
"I would have no problem supporting him to become lieutenant governor if that's what he wanted to do, assuming that a Republican senator would not have an interest in it," Courson said.
McGill would be elected by Senators as pro tempore, and he would assume the lieutenant governor position when McConnell leaves, said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.
"If that's what prefers to do, I would be very supportive of it," said Martin of McGill. "I'm sure he's thought it through."
The move came as a Columbia-based good government group planned to urge McConnell to keep his post for the remainder of his term if a successor wasn't identified.
John Crangle, director of Common Cause South Carolina, said Thursday there's no reason that McConnell can't hold both posts. McConnell is expected to start at the College of Charleston July 1. Crangle said a group from his organization plans to set up a meeting with McConnell.
Senators have said that it's possible that when McConnell resigns, the person who is president pro tempore would automatically assume the lieutenant governor's post, per state law.
McConnell's contract and CofC's board of trustees could come into play. His contract stipulates that he may not pursue endeavors that could have the appearance of a conflict of interest. The contract also says McConnell must "devote full-time energies to the duties as President."
McConnell couldn't be reached immediately Thursday. He said in an interview Wednesday that he wants the Senate to choose a new president pro tempore, which senators can do when they are back in session in two weeks. If a new president pro tempore is not selected by June 19, the last day the General Assembly is expected to meet, he plans to consider his options. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it," McConnell said. "Hopefully this will be worked out."
Months ago, McConnell rejected Common Cause's suggestion, saying he did not want to hold both jobs. "My commitment is to the college," McConnell said in March. "When they're ready for me, I'm gone."
There is a local instance of an elected politician leading a public agency while simultaneously serving in office. State Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Goose Creek, currently earns $192,000 a year as the hired executive director of the Charleston County Aviation Authority.
Campbell was picked for the job last year. At the time he said he did not intend to resign from the Senate seat he has held since 2007, contending he can work remotely from Columbia when the Legislature is in session, from January to June. His term ends in 2016. The aviation authority is a special purpose district chartered by the state in 1970.
Staff writers Diane Knich and Cynthia Roldan contributed to this report.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.
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