COLUMBIA, SC — The lieutenant governors job just became a lot more important.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment Nov. 6 allowing gubernatorial candidates to pick their lieutenant governor running mates, ending South Carolinas practice of electing its lieutenant governor separately from its governor. The new rules will go into effect for the 2018 election cycle.
The change is expected to jump-start the importance of the lieutenant governors office, politically and functionally irrelevant for decades. The lieutenant governors only duties now are to preside over the state Senate where he cannot vote and to oversee the SC Office on Aging. An SC lieutenant governor has not won election to a higher office since 1970, when former Lt. Gov. John West became governor.
The separate election of the governor and lieutenant governor has been part of the problem, political experts say. That occasionally has resulted in politicians from different parties holding the offices. Even when the governor and lieutenant governor are from the same party, the governor tends to view the lieutenant governor as more of a rival than a partner.
Its not a job worth having now. It hasnt been in a long time, former Gov. Jim Hodges said. It will be a job worth having when its part of the team.
But who will the change benefit the most? Republicans or Democrats?
Republicans can use the lieutenant governor pick to unify their party after a bruising primary fight. The majority party in South Carolina, Republicans often field a host of candidates. In 2010, the Republican candidates for governor were a U.S. congressman, lieutenant governor, attorney general and a dark-horse state representative, who stunned the GOP establishment by winning.
The grueling GOP primary can divide the party and give Democrats a better chance in the general election. But if the Republican nominee can pick one of his or her former Republican rivals as a running mate, it could go a long way toward smoothing things over.
Its a chance to immediately unify your base and bring in supporters of (other) candidates who might otherwise be sulking or want to go and take some time off or not be as involved, GOP consultant Luke Byars said. All of a sudden, they are back engaged the race.
Democrats can use the lieutenant governor pick to elevate people to public office who otherwise might not get involved.
Gubernatorial candidates are going to look for different traits in a running mate, probably look to people from the business sector, or try to address diversity issues, or maybe pick somebody with a law enforcement background the kind of things that dont happen today, said Hodges, a Democrat.
A Democratic candidate also could pick an African-American running mate in hopes of increasing voter turnout in the black community, which historically favors Democrats more than Republicans.
But while Hodges said the new arrangement would help Democrats elevate diverse candidates, he does not see it giving a boost to the partys candidate for governor.
The problem for Democrats is not a lack of enthusiasm with African-American voters. Its a diminishing portion of the white voters, said Hodges. That is the problem.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.