Longtime Columbia state Sen. John Courson was elected to the top post in the state Senate Tuesday, but the political musical chairs may not be over.
The 67-year-old Republican defeated Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, by a 27-17 vote for the job of Senate president pro tempore, one of the most powerful in the Legislature.
Courson succeeds the Senate’s longtime leader Glenn McConnell. McConnell was sworn in Tuesday by S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal as South Carolina’s new lieutenant governor, replacing Ken Ard who resigned last week.
While Republicans control the Senate — holding 27 of 46 seats — Democrats supplied Courson’s margin of victory after Republicans senators split between Courson and Peeler.
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Democratic senators, who voted 18-1 for Courson, had expressed concern that Peeler, the Senate’s Republican leader, can be too partisan. Courson, chairman of the Senate’s Education Committee, also appealed to Democrats for his history of supporting public education and the University of South Carolina.
Peeler won Republican senators by a 2-to-1 margin.
“I feel very honored,” said Courson, who has been a member of the Senate since 1985 and is an insurance executive at Keenan Suggs Insurance in Columbia. “This position is elected by senators themselves so it is a real honor to have my fellow senators support me. But I’m also pleased that I received bipartisan support.”
Courson promised to be fair to Republican and Democrat senators alike, following the lead of former Senate leader McConnell, who vacated that post and lost his Senate seat when he was sworn in as lieutenant governor.
“Giving it up is indeed a sad moment for me,” McConnell said during a speech to senators Tuesday. “But my oath compels me to do the right thing, no matter how difficult it is for me personally.”
Senators on both sides of the aisle praised McConnell on Tuesday for his fairness, knowledge and leadership. Some urged him to find a way to return to the Senate.
That is a possibility.
In fact, both Courson and McConnell could be in their new posts for only a short while.
The 64-year-old McConnell has left open the possibility that he might run for his old Senate seat and once again become a member of the Senate. If he wins the seat, he would vacate the lieutenant governor’s job.
“That is something I’m going to look at tomorrow,” McConnell said, adding he has until March 30 to make a decision on whether to run in a special election for his District 41 seat in Charleston’s West Ashley area.
If McConnell wins back his seat, Courson would become the state’s new lieutenant governor, according to the state Constitution. And the Senate, once again, would have to vote to elect a new president pro tem.
Courson said Tuesday he would prefer to remain in the Senate, rather than become lieutenant governor. “But I’ll do what the Constitution requires me to do.”