COLUMBIA — Voters will decide next month whether South Carolina will continue to elect its governors and lieutenant governors separately, or whether gubernatorial nominees will pick their running mates starting in 2018.
The constitutional amendment question on Nov. 6 ballots will also determine who presides over the Senate and how a vacancy in the office now largely considered ceremonial would be filled.
Voters who choose “yes” are saying they want the state’s CEO and No. 2 to run on the same ticket and the state Senate to elect its own presiding officer, meaning the lieutenant governor would no longer preside over the chamber.
Former Gov. Mark Sanford pushed the proposal for years, and Gov. Nikki Haley continued the call. In South Carolina, the governor and lieutenant governor have little interaction, and in recent years famously disliked each other.
But it took the guilty plea and resignation of former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, 14 months into his first term, for legislators to put the question on the ballot. If the proposed changes had been in place, Haley would’ve chosen Ard’s replacement, and Glenn McConnell would still be the state’s most powerful lawmaker.
The Charleston Republican, first elected to the Senate in 1980, reluctantly assumed Ard’s post in March, stunning observers who expected him to resign as president pro tem long enough for someone else to become lieutenant governor. But McConnell, 64, said he could not contort the state constitution’s designated lines of succession.
Within weeks, the Senate approved putting the joint-ticket question to voters — a measure that had passed the House several times — but only after pushing the start date to 2018. The move ensured that Haley — whose relationship with legislators has been just as contentious as Sanford’s — couldn’t benefit during her potential run for a second and final term.
After years of political wrangling, now that the question’s finally on the ballot, it’s received little attention. South Carolina’s League of Women Voters notes the change would more clearly define the balance of power because the lieutenant governor would no longer have roles in both the executive and leadership branches. The lieutenant governor’s duties are to preside over the Senate, oversee the state Office on Aging and step up if the governor’s seat is vacated.