Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell will resign next week to avoid a potential conflict of interest over a bill to make his future employer, the College of Charleston, a full-fledged research school, according to a published report.
McConnell presides over the state Senate, where lawmakers will be debating proposals to allow the College of Charleston to offer doctoral-degree programs like the University of South Carolina and Clemson University.
That would put McConnell in the awkward position of making rulings during debate of a bill that affects his future employer, where he will start work as president on July 1.
McConnell told The (Charleston) Post and Courier on Thursday that he will step down early next week – the final week of the regular legislative session. Efforts to reach McConnell were unsuccessful.
Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, and Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, already have objected to one College of Charleston bill. But the S.C. House on Thursday tacked the research-school proposal onto a separate bill that now is headed to the Senate.
Courson said he is not opposed to making the college a research school, but he wants more time to consider the bill and hold public hearings.
McConnell appeared before a Senate subcommittee considering the measure after getting clearance from the S.C. Ethics Commission, Courson said. But resigning as lieutenant governor would allow McConnell to lobby for the research-school proposal while it is being considered on the Senate floor.
“He can’t speak from the microphone,” Courson said.
McConnell’s resignation officially will end his lengthy career as one of state’s more influential legislators.
McConnell, 66, spent more than 30 years in the Senate, including the last decade as president pro tempore. He became lieutenant governor in 2012 after Ken Ard resigned over campaign-spending charges. McConnell said he took the oath out of loyalty to the state.
Courson could choose to become lieutenant governor, according to the succession rules in the state Constitution. But he said he prefers to stay in his current Senate leadership post. The lieutenant governor is a part-time job with limited power. The main task of the state’s No. 2 politician is overseeing the Office on Aging.
The events mean the lieutenant governor’s post will become vacant for the first time in nearly 50 years. The lieutenant governor’s office has remained empty for lengthy periods six times since 1879, according to state records. The last vacancy lasted for two years from 1965-67.
A new lieutenant governor will be elected in the fall – the last time the job will be voted for as a stand-alone office. The governor and lieutenant governor will be elected on the same ticket starting in 2018.
Courson said he plans to act as a liaison with directors in the five-person Lieutenant Governor’s Office and the 41-person state Office of Aging, which the lieutenant governor oversees.