SC Lt. Gov. McConnell to decide soon whether he will seek re-election or college post

ashain@thetate.comNovember 19, 2013 

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said Tuesday that he will take the Thanksgiving holiday to decide whether to run for the state’s No. 2 seat or instead concentrate on trying to become president of his alma mater, the College of Charleston.

McConnell said he wants to know which path he will take before the New Year. The 65-year-old Charleston Republican has not started formal fundraising for a re-election bid but has moved money from his state Senate campaign account.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ask constituents for their votes and funds, and then pull out of that,” McConnell told The State. “It’s not an honorable thing to do. … I’m just going to have to decide where my calling is.”

The College of Charleston’s presidential search committee adopted a timeline this month that has a list of finalists being handed to trustees on Feb. 10, said Greg Padgett, chairman of the search committee and trustees. Applications will be accepted from Nov. 29 to Jan. 14.

“We’ll do a traditional process of receiving applications, and the search committee completes a review and hands the results to board of trustees,” said Padgett, who works at a Charleston investment company. “Our ad (for the position) will reflect that a successful applicant will be someone who has shown they are a transformational leader.”

Candidates from inside and outside academia will be considered, Padgett said.

Former S.C. first lady Jenny Sanford also has expressed interest in the job.

McConnell, who was the powerful leader of the state Senate, became lieutenant governor by constitutional mandate after Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned last year and entered a guilty plea to ethics charges.

“I didn’t run for this job,” the Charleston Republican said. “I ended up with this job.”

McConnell said he has enjoyed his roles as lieutenant governor, working with the Office on Aging and presiding over the Senate. He added he just had finished the office’s budget request for next year.

But leading the College of Charleston is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, McConnell said. He said some unnamed alumni have approached him about running the nearly 12,000-student school.

If McConnell runs for re-election, he will face a GOP primary challenge from Charleston developer Pat McKinney, an ally of Gov. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington. State Rep. Bakari Sellers of Denmark is the only Democrat to declare for lieutenant governor thus far.

“There are folks who told me they would run (for lieutenant governor) if I don’t, and I want to give them enough lead time,” McConnell said.

McConnell said some of the College of Charleston’s most successful presidents have come from political backgrounds, including Alex Sanders, a former legislator and chief judge of the S.C. Court of Appeals.

“That’s why you have a provost to administer the faculty and curriculum,” he said.

McConnell said he wants the College of Charleston to become a research school through collaborations with the state’s three research universities, especially the Medical University of South Carolina, which also is in Charleston. College of Charleston and MUSC are studying a potential merger.

“I don’t see how the school can escape that,” McConnell said of the college becoming a research institution. “I believe being a liberal arts school is the focus, but the best insurance is to stay relevant. … The college needs to be in focus with businesses and with their needs.”

If state officials decide South Carolina needs another public law school, the College of Charleston could be a landing spot for the private Charleston School of Law. That private, proprietary law school is under review by state regulators while going through a controversial ownership change.

“It could be a nice fit,” McConnell said of combining the law school into the College of Charleston.

Despite reports that some key state lawmakers and trustees back McConnell as president, Padgett -- the chair of the College of Charleston’s search committee – said he feels no pressure to hire the former state senator.

The committee has hired a national search firm to help find a successor to president George Benson. “We have a process in place and the search committee is moving along in a fair and open process,” Padgett said.

Benson, who is retiring, is paid nearly $380,000 a year.

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