The S.C. Senate delayed making state Sen. Yancey McGill interim lieutenant governor Tuesday, a move that would give South Carolina its first Democrat in statewide office in three years.
The vote was delayed to consider possible Republican candidates.
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said a couple of Republican senators had expressed an interest in running and “wanted to think about it overnight.”
He did not name the interested senators.
Several sources told The State that Sens. Paul Thurmond, R-Charleston, and Lee Bright, R-Spartanburg, expressed concerns to fellow Republicans, who comprise a majority of the Senate, about having a Democrat who could become governor if something happened to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
Bright, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat held by Lindsey Graham, said he had no plans to seek the job of lieutenant governor. Thurmond, a first-term senator and son of the late Republican U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, said he has was leaning against seeking the post.
But Thurmond said he was interested in keeping the lieutenant governor's seat in Republican hands. “That's the way the voters wanted it.”
In 2010, voters elected Republican Ken Ard as lieutenant governor, but he resigned two years later after pleading guilty to misspending campaign money. Republican Glenn McConnell, the Senate president pro tempore, then became lieutenant governor, according to the state Constitution. However, McConnell is resigning this month to become the president at the College of Charleston.
Thurmond and Bright said they respect McGill, who built bipartisan support during a quarter-century in the Senate. But, they added, they do not plan to vote for him since he is a Democrat.
Their view was shared by S.C. Republican Party chairman Matt Moore.
“Extremely disappointed (with a) Democrat as Lt. Gov. Our grassroots worked 100+ years to win the office & it’s given up so easily,” Moore tweeted Tuesday.
McConnell said McGill, 61, is a good public servant with a center-right bent.
“I wouldn't have any concerns about him,” McConnell said. Even if McGill had to be governor for a month or two, he is knowledgeable about how state government works and “would not make waves.”
Haley, who is waging a re-election campaign, said last week she had no issues with a Democrat as interim lieutenant governor. A Democrat has not held the lieutenant governor’s office since Nick Theodore in 1995. The last Democrat to hold a statewide seat was Superintendent of Education Jim Rex in 2011.
The lieutenant governor is needed to ratify bills passed by the General Assembly before they go to the governor.
However, the Senate voted 23-22 to adjourn a half-hour into its session to avoid putting McGill in the state's No. 2 political seat.
McGill, a Kingstree real estate broker and home builder, said he thinks he has a good chance of winning the position of president pro tempore Wednesday, adding some senators who voted to adjourn Tuesday had promised their support to him last week.
“I learned over all the years that sometimes things are in the Lord's time and by His will, and not by my time and my will,” said McGill, who brought about 20 family members to the State House Tuesday.
Now, the Senate is expected to vote after 2 p.m. Wednesday.
The Senate also must take up Gov. Haley’s budget vetoes and has plans to finish debate on an ethics reform bill. The General Assembly can meet through 5 p.m. Thursday under the current agreement to extend the session.
Once a senator becomes lieutenant governor, the Senate is poised to have a fight between the Republican chairmen of its two most powerful committees to fill the post of president pro tempore. Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman of Florence and Judiciary Committee chairman Larry Martin of Pickens have said they will run for the post. Leatherman is the favorite to win.
Some senators suggested the vote was delayed to allow former Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, a chance to gather votes in a bid to win back the seat. Courson resigned the powerful leadership post two weeks ago to avoid automatically becoming lieutenant governor, one of the State House's least influential positions.
Courson said he has no plans to run again though some senators have asked him about his interest. He said he would serve again if drafted and elected.
Staff writer Jamie Self contributed.