LAST YEAR, South Carolina got an unfortunate reminder of the one reason we elect a lieutenant governor. It was more unfortunate still because the purpose of the office was defeated by the occupant: One of the primary reasons Gov. Mark Sanford was able to hold onto his job after his Argentine vacation was concern over what would happen if he resigned or was forced out. Although we were still months away from the “don’t feed strays” episode that would propel Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer to national infamy, South Carolinians already were familiar with the far more troubling problems with our governor-in-waiting, from his highway escapades to episodes of throwing around his weight for personal gain.
It’s hard to imagine that the maturity of the lieutenant governor or his fitness to assume the top job would have been a factor if either of this year’s candidates had been in office. Although there’s not much to the job except waiting for the governor to die or disappear, and it has (thankfully) not been the launching pad for gubernatorial campaigns that its occupants inevitably believe it will be, we somehow have managed to attract two responsible, attractive candidates who have shown no indications that we would have to worry about their behavior in that office or in the governor’s office. (And yes, Mr. Bauer did show such signs, even before his election.)
Democrat Ashley Cooper and Republican Ken Ard both are new to most voters, but both have solid reputations and come across as mature, level-headed people who are more than up to the normal duties of the office (presiding over the state Senate and overseeing the person who runs the small Office on Aging). Neither displays the delusions of power that too often infect candidates for the mostly ceremonial office. But while neither would be a bad choice, we believe Mr. Ard has that something extra that would make him a very good choice.
All other things being equal — and they’re not — we believe it’s better to elect someone who has held public office. We know more about them, and we can better predict how they will handle the competing demands of constituents. Mr. Ard has served six years on the Florence County Council; this is Mr. Cooper’s first run for office.
Just as important is what holding that office has taught Mr. Ard. When he says that county council is “a good place to end a political career” because “it’s real government,” he displays an understanding lacking in too many legislators and statewide officeholders of how much we all depend on government to provide crucial services, from police and fire protection to the highway and judicial systems.
Mr. Ard has lived his entire life in one of our state’s poorest regions, which tempers his fiscal conservatism and skepticism about government regulations with a genuine understanding of the needs of those areas that have been left behind. This creates a healthy balance and tension.
Most of all, Mr. Ard is a pragmatist, someone who understands that getting 60 percent of something is better than getting 100 percent of nothing. He’s far more interested in getting that something — whether it’s smarter spending or his intergenerational wellness plan — than scoring political points or toeing an ideological line. He makes a point of collecting friends and allies from across the political spectrum, and learning from their different perspectives. He describes his ability to listen to people who disagree with him as his primary strength.
Those are essential characteristics for any responsible public official, and they make Ken Ard an excellent choice for our next lieutenant governor.