South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, has now suspended himself from office, a day after the Richland County Grand Jury handed down nine indictments against him related to accusations of misusing campaign funds.
“I am proactively taking this step because I believe it is the right decision for the South Carolina House of Representatives, its members and the people we serve,” Harrell wrote in a letter to the House Clerk on Thursday. “I have great respect for this institution and the people of South Carolina. I have always sought to act in their best interest and continue to do so now by taking this action and suspending myself from office.”
Harrell may have had no choice, as state law clearly requires legislators who are indicted for felonies or crimes carrying more than two years in prison to be automatically suspended without pay.
The suspension means Speaker pro tempore Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, will become Acting Speaker of the House on a temporary basis. Legislators were already scheduled to vote on the Speaker position before returning to Columbia for a new session in January. Several other prominent House Republicans, including former majority leaders State Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, and Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, had expressed interest in the position if it came open.
Meanwhile the South Carolina Democratic Party, which had all but written off Harrell’s opponent in his reelection bid this November, said Thursday it would offer more help to Charleston realtor Mary Tinkler. Tinkler and Green Party candidate Sue Edward were considered heavy underdogs in the House District 114 race against Harrell.
“Now more than ever the voters of District 114 deserve honest, ethical representation,” House Democratic Caucus spokesman Tyler Jones said in an email, adding the party now considered the seat one of five they are hoping to pick up in November. Republicans currently have a comfortable 78-46 margin over Democrats in the South Carolina House.