Republicans will meet behind closed doors today to try to unite behind one candidate to be the new leader of the state Senate.
State senators then are expected to vote publicly, on the Senate floor, on that senator’s elevation to Senate president pro tem and also swear in state Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, as the state’s new lieutenant governor.
At least for the moment, today’s events will mark the culmination of days of State House drama following Lt. Gov. Ken Ard’s resignation Friday. Later Friday, Ard entered a guilty plea to state election law violations.
Following Ard’s resignation, McConnell said he would adhere to the state Constitution and resign from his powerful post as Senate president pro tem and assume the largely ceremonial post of lieutenant governor, responsible for presiding over the Senate and overseeing the state’s Office on Aging.
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At least two senators, Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, and Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, are seeking to replace McConnell as Senate president pro tem, a position with the power to hold sway over what legislation is taken up by the Senate.
Senators have been in overdrive over the weekend, lobbying support for their favored candidate for president pro tem. The candidate who receives a majority of the Senate’s 46 votes claims the post.
“Senator Peeler has the experience and temperament to serve well the institution of the Senate as its president pro tempore,” Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, said in a statement.
But Courson said Monday that he is the best pick.
“Senate president pro tem is the public face of the Senate, and I would continue the good work of Glenn McConnell,” Courson said, adding, in the new post, he will make three areas priorities: jobs, education and environmental issues.
If Senate Republicans cannot unite behind a single candidate, Democrats, who hold 19 of the Senate’s 46 seats, will have an important say in electing a Senate leader. They also are scheduled to meet secretly this morning to discuss the candidate they will support.
That pick is unlikely to be Peeler, said Phil Bailey, director of the Senate’s Democratic Caucus.
“We’re not going to back a partisan leader,” Bailey said, referring to Peeler, who is the Republican majority leader in the Senate.
Speculation is also running high as to whether McConnell will serve long as lieutenant governor or, instead, file to run in a special election to fill his old Senate seat, making him a voting member of the Senate once again.
That move would strip McConnell of his 30-plus years of seniority in the Senate, effectively making him a “back row” senator with little influence. However, some have pointed out the Senate could vote to change its rules and restore McConnell’s seniority.
“That’s a bad idea,” Bailey said. “The rules are meant for the body as a whole to function, not just one senator. (McConnell) has made his bed. Now, he’s got to lie in it.”
Should McConnell win his old Senate seat, the new president pro tem would become lieutenant governor and the Senate once again would have to choose a new president pro tem, continuing the musical chairs.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Courson said. “The greatest minds of Hollywood couldn’t come up with anything better.”
The plot twists also are renewing calls to change the lieutenant governor’s job.
Gov. Nikki Haley and others have pushed unsuccessfully to require the governor and lieutenant governor run on a joint ticket, just as the U.S. president and vice president do. Such a move would make the lieutenant governor a partner to the governor, give the lieutenant governor more to do and, proponents say, ensure a smoother transition should the lieutenant governor have to become governor.
However, making that change would require lawmakers and voter to approve changing the state Constitution.
“It’s not too late for them to get serious about making that reform and getting it on the ballot,” said Mike Campbell, son of the late Gov. Carroll Campbell who unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor in 2006.