The same day that South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell was officially suspended from his position, positioning was already underway among legislators who hope replace him.
The Charleston Republican lost his leadership title after a grand jury indicted him this week on nine counts based on accusations that he misused campaign funds and covered it up in required campaign disclosure forms.
Since Harrell was only suspended, he has not technically resigned his seat. In theory, he could return to the post if his legal issues are settled favorably by the end of the year.
With the suspension, Speaker pro tempore James “Jay” Lucas, R-Hartsville, becomes the acting Speaker. Lucas’ remaining term will only last until a few weeks after Election Day. The elected House members will then vote for a Speaker shortly before they return to a new two-year session in January.
Lucas, who is running unopposed in his district this year, has indicated he will seek the Speaker’s job permanently. Lucas is considered the favorite due to his connections with many of the same Republicans and Democrats who previously backed Harrell. Former House majority leaders Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, and Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, have also said they are pursuing the job.
House budget chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, had expressed interest in the position. But on Thursday he decided against running and instead threw his support behind Lucas, according to the Charleston Post & Courier.
On Thursday morning, Harrell’s office sent out a statement to media outlets saying he had voluntarily suspended himself from office, but the Attorney General’s office said Harrell could not due that. An opinion written by state Solicitor General Robert Cook (who answers to the Attorney General) on Thursday noted that Harrell was automatically suspended from the House as soon as the indictment was handed down by the grand jury. “Mr. Harrell is rendered disqualified from participation ‘in the business of his public office’ as a matter of law upon indictment,” Cook wrote.
Since Harrell was automatically suspended from the position, Cook wrote, he could not officially suspend himself. Instead, the Solicitor General said Speaker pro tempore Lucas immediately took on the responsibility.
The Speaker’s Office sent out a letter from Lucas late Thursday afternoon agreeing to follow the Attorney General’s opinion.
“I regret this unfortunate circumstance,” Lucas wrote, saying he believed “that issue to be moot.”