Democrat considers becoming SC’s interim lieutenant governor

ashain@thestate.comJune 6, 2014 

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— State Sen. Yancey McGill said Thursday that he may run for a Senate leadership post that could make the Williamsburg Democrat the state’s interim lieutenant governor.

The move could end, at least temporarily, the Republican Party’s stranglehold on statewide offices in South Carolina.

“I thought about it and I said, ‘Why not?’” said McGill, the sixth-most senior of 46 state senators.

McGill, 61, added he is “waiting for a little bit of heavenly guidance” before making a final decision about whether to run for Senate president pro tempore.

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If McGill runs for the post – which no other senator has expressed interest in – he quickly could rise to the state's No. 2 job. Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell is resigning later this month to become president at his alma mater, the College of Charleston.

Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, resigned as president pro tempore Wednesday to avoid becoming lieutenant governor.

The Senate president pro tempore is one of the most powerful posts at the State House. Despite being the state’s second-in-command, lieutenant governor is a part-time job with little authority.

McGill said he does not think being a Democrat will hurt his chances of winning the post of president pro tem, which is elected from among state senators. McGill noted he has long-standing relationships with other senators. In the Republican-majority Senate, McGill chairs a finance panel on natural resources.

No Democrats hold statewide office. The last to hold a statewide office was state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex, who left office in 2011.

Courson and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said Thursday that McGill would have no problem being elected president pro tempore.

“Yancey McGill would bring gravitas to the position,” Courson said. “I would have no problem supporting him.”

Martin added, “He’d be a prime candidate.”

McGill is the only senator to publicly express interest in the running for Senate president pro tempore with the prospect of an almost immediate promotion to lieutenant governor.

Three other senators who had weighed bids for the post – Sens. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, John Scott, D-Richland, and Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston – said they will take passes.

Martin said voting for a new Senate president pro tempore could take place when the General Assembly reconvenes on June 17.

If he becomes lieutenant governor, McGill would leave his Senate seat and serve six months in office. He said he has no plans to run for the post in November, when four Republicans and a Democrat are vying for the job.

Before the possibility of becoming lieutenant governor arose, McGill said he planned for run for re-election in 2016 to the Senate seat that he has held for 25 years. He considered running for lieutenant governor in 1994, the last time a Democrat held the seat.

McGill said he’s interested in the post now because he thinks he can help the state Office on Aging, which the lieutenant governor oversees. He said he also would like to work with local governments to gain more autonomy from Columbia.

McConnell has delayed his resignation as lieutenant governor, originally scheduled for Thursday, until he ratifies all bills passed by the Legislature or the Senate elects a new president pro tempore.

Bills approved by General Assembly must be ratified by the lieutenant governor, who is president of Senate, and House speaker before they go to the governor.

“I'm not going to leave the state in a constitutional crisis,” McConnell said Thursday.

Lawmakers will gather again on June 17-19 to consider budget vetoes and leftover bills.

McConnell gave up being Senate president pro tempore when he was elevated to lieutenant governor after Ken Ard's resignation in 2012. Courson succeeded McConnell.

McConnell and Gov. Nikki Haley insist the lieutenant governor’s office should not go unfilled, even though it has remained vacant for lengthy periods six times since 1879.

Martin said he could see the posts of lieutenant governor and Senate president pro tempore remaining open until January, now that McConnell has said he will to stay on until bills from this year’s Legislature are ratified.

If that happens, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, a Charleston Republican facing ethics allegations, could become governor if Haley could not serve out the remainder of her term, which expires in January.

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