The office of lieutenant governor is a “dying institution,” according to the man who holds the job.
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell predicts that South Carolina voters in November will approve a proposal allowing candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket, and make the No. 2 job even more of a ceremonial post than it is now.
McConnell, a Charleston Republican, became the state’s 87th lieutenant governor in March, when former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, R-Florence, resigned and entered a guilty plea for violating state ethics laws.
In the space of four days, McConnell, previously president pro tem of the Senate, went from being one of the state’s most powerful politicians to a mostly ceremonial role as lieutenant governor.
Many political observers, thinking that McConnell would not be content to disappear into ceremony, looked for him to expand the powers of his new office.
Early on, it looked like McConnell would do that.
He persuaded his former Senate colleagues to give a $5 million boost to the lieutenant governor’s Office on Aging, a sum later reduced to $2 million by the House. And lawmakers gave SLED $200,000 to provide McConnell with a security detail, something that other lieutenant governors had not used.
But Thursday, a day the Senate wrapped up the 2012 session by overturning most of Gov. Nikki Haley’s budget vetoes, McConnell predicted approval this fall for a proposal that, starting in 2018, South Carolina will elect a governor and a lieutenant governor on the same ticket.
“If I decide to run for re-election, I’d be the last lieutenant governor that is president of the Senate,” McConnell said, predicting that the president pro tem will oversee the Senate in the future, just as the speaker oversees the S.C. House now. “That’s a dying institution.”
McConnell said he was frustrated for most of the legislative session, mostly due to the lieutenant governor’s limited duties. The lieutenant governor has just two responsibilities — preside over the Senate and run the state Office on Aging.
He or she can vote on a bill only if the Senate is tied, a rare occurrence.
McConnell started the session as a senator with a legislative agenda: a constitutional cap on state spending, a deficit reduction act and reforming how state agencies impose regulations. But once he became lieutenant governor, McConnell said he could only watch helplessly from the Senate dais.
“They all sputtered,” he said of his agenda items.
But while McConnell was not on the Senate floor, his former colleagues still looked to him for advice.
On any given day, you could often see groups of senators, Republican and Democrat, huddled by McConnell’s feet as he leaned down from the dais to offer advice on Senate rules — something McConnell knows better than anyone.
On the last day of the regular session — as senators feverishly were debating Haley’s Department of Administration bill — state Sen. Jake Knotts, R-Lexington, found an obscure rule tucked deep in the Senate handbook that allowed him to make a motion that basically killed the bill.
Many suspected it was McConnell who tipped off Knotts, a Haley opponent.
But McConnell said it was just Knotts using his newfound knowledge as chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, adding that he wanted the bill to pass.