The Buzz

August 1, 2014

Democrat governor for a day – sort of

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley was resting at the Governor’s Mansion by mid-morning Friday after a quick surgery, during which time the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor had the authority to act as governor in an emergency.

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to

S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley was resting at the Governor’s Mansion by mid-morning Friday after quick surgery, during which time the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor had the authority to act as governor in an emergency.

Republican Haley had arm surgery in Lexington at 7 a.m. for “right radial nerve decompression,” her campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey said.

The procedure is done to alleviate pressure on the radial nerve, which travels down the arm and controls upper-arm muscles. When the nerve is compressed it can cause pain or numbness in the forearm and hand.

The surgery took about 25 minutes, required general anesthesia and went according to plan, Godfrey said.

Godfrey said Haley’s doctors said she needed the surgery, in part, after hand-signing more than 30,000 letters since she took office in 2011.

Haley called Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, Thursday about 4:15 p.m. to tell him she was having surgery.

McGill was on standby if needed briefly. But, shortly before 10 a.m. Friday, Haley’s office notified McGill that the governor no longer needed him on alert.

McGill’s office confirmed the lieutenant governor took no actions on the governor’s behalf during those three hours.

Haley or her aides have a policy of notifying the lieutenant governor whenever the governor travels out of the state or the country, or if other situations arise that could require the state’s second-in-command to act in her place, Godfrey said, adding the transfer of power only happens in the event of an emergency.

The S.C. Constitution gives the lieutenant governor “full authority to act in an emergency” when the governor is away from the state or in the case of the governor’s “temporary disability.”

Another section in the Constitution outlines the process the governor takes to transfer power in the event that the governor is unable to perform the duties of the office.

Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges said Friday that “it was a wise thing to do” for Haley to notify the lieutenant governor of her surgery. But in no way did it require a transfer of power, he said.

The public notification also preempts questions about what happened to Haley when she appears publicly with a cast or bandage, Hodges said.

Hodges, who was governor from 1999-2003, said his office sometimes notified the lieutenant governor when he would travel out of state and sometimes did not.

“It depended on the circumstances. It gets to the point of being ridiculous if someone goes in for a dental procedure” and is under anesthesia for an hour, he said. “The key is, it depends on whether you were out of contact.”

South Carolina has had trouble with keeping up with all its governors.

Republican Gov. Mark Sanford disappeared for several days in 2009, without communication with law enforcement or his staff, who said he was walking the Appalachian Trail.

Upon his return to South Carolina, Sanford said he had flown to Argentina to see his mistress.

On Friday, Bob McAlister, who was Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell’s chief of staff, said Campbell’s staff would let the lieutenant governor know when Campbell was traveling and out of touch.

“If (Campbell) were going overseas on a trade mission, if he were out of communication, not readily available, as a courtesy or a heads-up more than anything else, we would notify the lieutenant governor’s office,” McAlister said.

Haley’s surgery created buzz in headlines and on social media Friday about a Democrat running the state.

South Carolina has not elected a Democratic governor since Hodges.

The possibility of a member of the state’s underdog party calling the shots resulted from a series of unusual political events that left a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office.

McGill ascended to the post of the state’s second in command after Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, a Charleston Republican, resigned to become the president of the College of Charleston.

Republican state Sen. John Courson of Richland County, who was Senate president pro tempore at the time, could have ascended to the seat. But Courson resigned as president pro tem because he did not want to give up his Senate seat to fill the temporary post. Subsequently, McGill was elected president pro tem and elevated to lieutenant governor.

McGill’s brief tenure ends in January when the next lieutenant governor, elected in November, takes office.

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