The S.C. Senate voted delay making Sen. Yancey McGill interim lieutenant governor on Tuesday, which would give South Carolina its first Democrat in statewide office in three years, to consider possible Republican candidates.
Sen. Shane Massey, an Edgefield Republican who introduced motions to delay the vote, 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 of Charleston and Lee Bright of Spartanburg expressed concerns to fellow Republicans who dominate the Senate about having a Democrat who could become governor if something happened to Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
Bright, who just ran for the U.S. Senate, said he had no plans to seek the seat. Thurmond, a first-term senator and son of the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, said he has not made a decision about running though he was leaning against it.
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Thurmond said he was interested in keeping the lieutenant governor's seat in the hands of Republican: "That's the way the voters wanted it."
Voters put Republican Ken Ard in the seat in 2010, but he resigned two years later after pleading guilty to misspending campaign money. Republican Glenn McConnell, then the Senate president pro tempore, rose to lieutenant governor at the time in following the succession under state Constitution. McConnell is leaving this month to become the president at the College of Charleston.
Thurmond and Bright said they respected McGill, who built bipartisan support after a quarter century in the Senate, but they do not plan to vote for him since he's a Democrat.
Their view was shared by S.C. GOP 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," he tweeted Tuesday.
McConnell said no one else has formally decided to take the job and that McGill 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's knowledgeable about how stat government work and "would not make waves."
Haley, who is waging a re-election campaign, said last week that she had no issues with a Democrat across the first-floor State House lobby from her office. 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.
A Republican wanting the No. 2 spot, even one with little seniority, could pose a problem because GOP senators might not want to be seen crossing party lines to choose a statewide officeholder. Any senator becoming lieutenant governor would lose their seniority if they are re-elected later -- such as in a special election that could be held in November.
McGill, a 61-year-old Kingstree real estate broker and home builder, has been the only senator publicly offering to swap his seat for the state's No. 2 job for seven months until a newly lieutenant governor takes office in January. The lieutenant governor is needed to ratify bills passed by the General Assembly before they go to the governor.
He said he feels he has good chances of winning the president pro tempore seat on Wednesday since some senators voting to adjourn had promised their support to him last week. 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.
"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 on Tuesday.
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richalnd, was the only senator not in attendance Tuesday. If he sided with other Democrats on adjournment, the vote would have been tied with McConnell, the president of the Senate, casting the vote to end the stalemate.
The Charleston Republican said he would have voted to stay in session. McConnell wants to resign as soon as possible to start at work at the College of Charleston but is waiting until the Senate elects a new president pro tempore who would become lieutenant governor per the state Constitution.
Instead, the Senate will wait until 2 p.m. Wednesday for a vote. The Senate also must take up the governors 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 president pro tempore vacancy. Finance chair Hugh Leatherman of Florence and Judiciary chair Larry Martin of Pickens have said they will run.
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. Courson said he understands the vote was delayed to possibly allow a Republican step forward for consideration as lieutenant governor. He declined to reveal who wants the seat.
If chosen he's chosen lieutenant governor, McGill said he wants to help the state Office on Aging, which the post oversees, and would like to work with local governments to gain more autonomy from Columbia. He also plans to visit senior centers in all 46 counties in the state within his first two weeks in office and plans to meet with the state department agriculture, commerce and parks recreation and tourism to discuss possible partnership opportunities.
"I spoke with Lt. Gov. McConnell, and he knows you can make a difference in seven months if you have the (work) ethic and knowledge of the state budget and resources," said McGill, a former of Kingstree mayor who took over the senate seat held by his father, Frank.