COLUMBIA - One can excuse the South Carolina politico for being a bit sensitive when it comes to the idea of transferring power among the state's executive offices.
Friday's temporary transfer of power - if one can even call it that - from the office of Gov. Nikki Haley to a Democratic lieutenant governor likely will go down as unremarkable, despite its extraordinary sounding nature.
Haley underwent an outpatient procedure on her right arm called "right radial nerve decompression," similar to procedures done for carpal tunnel syndrome. It was necessary at least in part because Haley has signed about 39,000 letters since she took office in 2011, said Haley spokesman Doug Mayer.
Before she went to the hospital, Haley called the man who recently assumed the No. 2 post, Democratic Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill.
The power struggle that recently consumed the Statehouse for months around the usually under-the-radar lieutenant governor's spot elevates Haley's morning procedure, as do the unforgettable events surrounding the disappearance of her predecessor.
After the 7 a.m. procedure Friday, Haley's doctors were probably almost finished by the time many noticed an Associated Press report saying the governor had temporarily transferred power to McGill, who could have executed the first act from a Democrat in that office since 2003.
But no problems came up and nothing needed to be done, Mayer said. McGill could not be reached for comment.
The power transfer wasn't a formal act, Mayer said. Under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor may step in during an emergency when the governor cannot perform his or her duties.
Haley didn't sign any documents to transfer power, but she called McGill at 4:15 p.m. Thursday to notify him of her planned surgery, Mayer confirmed.
Haley then called the lieutenant governor after her surgery around 10 a.m. to tell him it went well and she no longer needed him on standby.
A cyclone of heavy-handed politics had put McGill on the other end of that phone call. He was elected not by popular vote but by the will of the Republican majority in the state Senate. Former Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell abruptly resigned during the legislative session this year, and no Republican wanted the mostly powerless job (a job that McConnell never wanted either but felt compelled to assume after Ken Ard resigned because of ethics woes).
While some had suggested the state could go without a lieutenant governor, Haley had insisted otherwise.
Friday's act showed she was right, some said.
Friends and would-be foes praised Haley's decision to notify the second-in-command, especially in light of former Gov. Mark Sanford's disappearance to Argentina in 2009 that left the world looking for him and state leaders wondering who was in charge.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, who has feuded with Haley in the past, wished the governor a speedy recovery.
"The episode of a few years back shows us why (communication with the lieutenant governor) is needed," Harrell said. "She did the right thing informing him that she'd be out of commission. It looks to me like the system worked like it was supposed to."
Former Gov. Jim Hodges, the last Democrat to occupy the office, said a routine, relatively quick surgery may not have even required any publicity.
"I think it would be OK not to say anything about it," he said. "(But) in the next day or two, she's going to appear publicly and have a cast on her hand. People are going to be curious about what went on ... and that necessitated revealing the nature of the surgery."
"I don't see it as a big deal," he added.
There have been several instances of lieutenant governors needing to step up in a pinch. Notably, former Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling helped coordinate the response after a mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 when then-Gov. Tim Kaine was out of the country.
If anything, Friday's event underscored the fact that the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately in South Carolina. After this November's election, that will change - the two positions will run together on the same ticket, like the president and vice president.
"Every lieutenant governor who has ever lived, with the exception of the current one, has always seen himself as the next governor," said Bob McAlister, who worked as chief of staff to former Gov. Carroll Campbell.
In that way, with the two offices separated by only a lobby on the Statehouse ground floor, the tension between them can be notable, McAlister said.
While some might think that Haley could have announced the so-called power transfer earlier, McAlister said a lot of politicians would have done the opposite.
"Nobody would ever know about it," he said.
But in a state where governors have gone missing recently and where an unelected Democrat with supposedly the weakest job in Columbia can potentially take the reigns of a red state for a few hours - and with transparency being one of the values Haley has talked about most - it was understandable she erred on the side of caution.
As Harrell put it, "Another day in the life of the state capital."
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.
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