Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell will resign Thursday, and he does not think his job should remain vacant long, the state’s No. 2 politician told The State on Monday.
Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, the next in line to become lieutenant governor, said he wants to stay in his more powerful legislative post. He said he would oversee the state’s second-ranking office until a new lieutenant governor is elected in November.
McConnell said, however, that South Carolina needs a lieutenant governor for several executive responsibilities that cannot be done by a legislator. They include presenting a budget to the governor, signing off on an annual accountability report for the state Office on Aging, signing employee leave requests and ratifying bills approved by the General Assembly before they can go to Gov. Nikki Haley’s desk.
“I can’t change the Constitution of the state,” the Charleston Republican said. “We need to have a lieutenant governor.” Haley also has said the state needs to have someone holding the No. 2 spot even though the Senate president pro tempore is next in line to become governor after the lieutenant governor.
McConnell, who will become president at the College of Charleston in July, said he did not want to force Courson to make a decision. McConnell faced the same dilemma in 2012 when Ken Ard resigned.
“You have to move up or move out,” said McConnell, a known rules maven about his study of the issue two years ago. “When I became president pro tempore, with it came the power, but there was also a chance I could have to step up.”
The lieutenant governor is a part-time job with little political influence. McConnell considered stepping aside as Senate president pro tempore in favor of one of several other senators who were willing to take the post and become lieutenant governor. McConnell said then he would have been re-elected as senate leader. Instead, he chose to take the oath out of a loyalty to the office.
Courson, a Richland Republican who succeeded McConnell in leading the senate, said Monday evening that he has not changed his mind about staying put. He said McConnell has not mentioned issues between the executive and legislative responsibilities when they spoke earlier in the day.
“I have never heard of that in the past,” said Courson, who has served in the senate for nearly 30 years.
The lieutenant governor’s office has remained vacant for lengthy periods six times since 1879, according to state records. The last vacancy lasted for two years from 1965-67.
McConnell, 66, has presided over his last session of the Senate. He said he is having cataract eye surgery on Tuesday and plans to return Thursday to say good-bye after three decades in office. Thursday is the final scheduled day of the legislative session though lawmakers are expected to come back in two weeks to finish the budget.
McConnell said he decided to leave earlier than expected after concerns were raised that he appeared to recognize one senator over another to get a crucial vote for a bill that would make the College of Charleston the state’s full-fledged research university.
“I have spent 34 years in office and not had anyone question my fairness,” McConnell said. “When you start questioning my ethics, I’m out of here.”
McConnell signed a contract with the College of Charleston on May 19. He expects to start work at the school next week to transition into the new job.
“I probably stayed 2½ weeks longer than I should have,” he said.