September 22, 2014

Could Lt. Gov’s office be vacant after July?

Sen. John Courson, R-Richland (File)

Sen. John Courson, R-Richland (File)

With Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell scheduled to become the next president at the College of Charleston in July, the state Constitution requires the Senate President pro tempore to become the new lieutenant governor. But the man currently holding the office said Monday he will not do that.

State Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, said he will not give up his Senate leadership seat to take over a mostly ceremonial position for little more than six months.

“There have been six president pro tempores who have not moved to the lieutenant governor’s office. And the time period has been between four and five months the office has been vacant all the way in excess of two years,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “So this would not be unprecedented.” The last time the office was vacant was in the late 1960s.

The state constitution requires the Senate to choose a senator to act as lieutenant governor once they convene “as soon as practicable” after the office becomes vacant.

The lieutenant governor’s primary responsibility is to preside over the state Senate, which Courson believes will adjourn before July. The position is also next in line for the Governor’s Office should something happen to current Gov. Nikki Haley. Courson said the President pro tempore is already next in the line of succession for both duties even if the Lt. Gov. position were vacant. The lieutenant governor does lead the state Office on Aging, but Courson said he was confident the office could still function without him for another six months.

However, Courson said he does not think McConnell needs to leave the job entirely, believing the future college president could still act as a lieutenant governor without violating the rule against dual office-holding (the Lt. Governor position is officially a part-time job). Courson admitted that he had not spoken with McConnell about the possibility, though. McConnell could not be reached for comment on Monday.

McConnell found himself in Courson’s position two years ago, when then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned in March 2012 to face ethics charges. McConnell reluctantly decided to retire from the Senate pro tempore position in order to succeed Ard.

Voters will choose a new lieutenant governor in November, who would then take office in January. State Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, is the sole Democratic candidate so far. Retired real estate developer Pat McKinney and Columbia businessman Mike Campbell are running on the Republican side. This will be the final election before the governor and lieutenant governor begin running on a joint ticket in 2018.