STATE HOUSE: Snow cancels session, but not race for Supreme Court chief justice

Posted by ADAM BEAM on January 27, 2014 

First Day

South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, addresses the House during the first day of the South Carolina Legislature on Tuesday.

RAINIER EHRHARDT — AP

State lawmakers get a week off because of predicted snow, but one thing they won't escape is the race for chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court.

The rare, contested election between current Chief Justice Jean Toal and Associate Justice Costa Pleicones is scheduled for next Wednesday.

And at least one Pleicones supporter says House Speaker Bobby Harrell's decision to cancel session this week was a strategic move to give the Charleston Republican more time to lobby on Toal's behalf.

"It gives the Speaker a little bit more time to work the phones without the opposition, that being me, working the other side," House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford said. "It is an advantage for the Speaker."

The "telling sign," the Richland Democrat said, is that -- at least in the 16 years he has been in the House -- lawmakers have usually delayed session because of snow, but never canceled an entire week because of a threatening forecast.

"I remember in 1998 being in the State House when there was a tornado on the front lawn and we didn't blink an eye," Rutherford said. "Who cancels session because of snow the day before we are actually supposed to come?"

Rutherford said, according to his vote counting, Pleicones is about 10 votes ahead in the House while the Senate is evenly split between the two candidates.

Greg Foster, Harrell's spokesman, said the decision of whether to have session is "strictly based on the safety of House members and what's going on with the weather."

"Such a political decision like that would never come into consideration," Foster said.

Whether the cancelled session helps Harrell -- and thus Toal -- is debatable.

Political operatives said Harrell would be more effective lobbying members face to face rather than over the phone. Harrell rounded up votes much of Thursday while Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas presided over the House.

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