COLUMBIA, SC — A key state Senate leader said he plans to ask Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell to not resign Thursday and extend his stay in the No. 2 post for another two weeks, avoiding a constitutional brouhaha over his successor.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said that if Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson ratifies bills after McConnell resigns, then the Richland Republican could be forced to leave his Senate seat and become lieutenant governor under the state Constitution.
Courson – next in line for the state’s weak, part-time No. 2 post – repeated Tuesday that he will not leave his powerful role in the Legislature.
“It’s almost comical that the lieutenant governor has become the most important position in South Carolina,” Courson said.
McConnell and Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, far from close allies, find themselves in agreement that Courson – or someone else in the state Senate – should fill the lieutenant governor’s post. After McConnell resigns, the office could remain open for about six months until a newly elected lieutenant governor is sworn in next year.
“No governor should be without a second in command,” Haley said Tuesday. “There’s a lot that happens in that office. ... Just out of respect and responsibility, every time I leave this state, I have always called and told them, ‘I’m leaving the state, this is when I’ll be back,’ just to keep those lines of communication. Who do I call now?”
McConnell, a Charleston Republican, has announced Thursday, the final regular day of the General Assembly, will be his last as lieutenant governor. However, he said the lieutenant governor’s job should not go unfilled, even though it has remained vacant for lengthy periods six times since 1879.
The Legislature is scheduled to return to Columbia June 17-19 in an extended session to complete any unfinished work. Martin said he would ask McConnell to stay on the job until June 19 to ratify the budget and any other leftover bills.
“Beyond that point, we can easily get by without a lieutenant governor because there is nothing else official for him to do,” Martin said.
McConnell has said someone in the executive branch, not a legislator, needs to present the lieutenant governor’s budget to the governor, sign off on an annual accountability report for the state Office on Aging, which is part of the lieutenant governor’s office, and approve leaves of absence.
Courson and Martin said, however, they think staff can do that work.
McConnell, who is ending a three-decade political career to become the president of the College of Charleston, had eye surgery Tuesday. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
McConnell suggested Monday that Courson either become lieutenant governor or step aside as president pro tempore for another senator who wants to become lieutenant governor. McConnell said he faced the same choice when he was Senate president pro tempore in 2012 after then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned.
Haley said McConnell deserves credit for following the Constitution and becoming lieutenant governor.
“I’m fascinated at the conversation of comfort because any time we choose to serve, you don’t serve out of comfort, you serve out of duty, and your duty is to the Constitution of this state,” she said. “We don’t always like what we have to do. These jobs aren’t always comfortable, but it is our job.”
But Martin said no one should expect any Senate volunteers for the state’s No. 2 job after McConnell resigns.
“We don’t have anybody in the Senate who wants a one-way ticket out in midterm for being called lieutenant governor for six months,” he said.
Courson said the blowup over filling the lieutenant governor’s office could be attributed to a couple of unpopular decisions that he has made.
The senator said he has heard McConnell is unhappy about his request to delay until next year a vote on making the College of Charleston a research university. Courson also thinks he displeased Haley when he called on the governor to remove embattled Department of Social Services director Lillian Koller, who stepped down Monday.
“I will not be lieutenant governor,” he said.