Cindi Ross Scoppe

SC lieutenant governor seeks work; will jettison purple robe

SC Gov Henry McMaster, shown here on the opening day of the 2017 General Assembly, will be the last elected lieutenant governor to preside over the Senate.
SC Gov Henry McMaster, shown here on the opening day of the 2017 General Assembly, will be the last elected lieutenant governor to preside over the Senate. tdominick@thestate.com

SOON, PERHAPS as soon as today, senators will vote to kick the lieutenant governor out of the Senate chamber.

Not the current lieutenant governor, Kevin Bryant, whom they just voted unanimously to transform from state senator into lieutenant governor. But the lieutenant governor who is selected by and elected on the ticket with the governor in 2018.

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Was Leatherman out of line? History says no

Who is Kevin Bryant, SC’s next lieutenant governor?

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Even people who missed the fact that we voted in 2010 to amend the state constitution and stop electing lieutenant governors separately must be aware of that change now, after last month’s hyperventilated battle over who would select a replacement for then-Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster when he replaced Nikki Haley as governor.

But a lot of people did not realize that in addition to making Mr. McMaster the last separately elected lieutenant governor, the 2010 constitutional amendment also made him the last elected lieutenant governor who would preside over and have the title president of the Senate. (The other little-known McMaster superlative: first native South Carolinian to serve as both attorney general and governor, and first from any state to serve both offices since carpetbagger Daniel Chamberlain in 1868 and 1874.)

When I mentioned the lieutenant governor’s demotion to a friend recently, he stared at me blankly and said, “But the vice president presides over the U.S. Senate.” Then he asked, “What will the lieutenant governor do?”

“Whatever the governor tells him to do,” I replied. “Well, and run the Office on Aging.”

But as things stand right now — and this could change in the House — I was wrong.

S.107 also removes the Office on Aging from the lieutenant governor’s office, where it has been bizarrely and inappropriately housed since Andre Bauer prevailed upon senators to provide him a political base of support to cultivate. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the bill places the office bizarrely and inappropriately into the Department of Administration. It should be part of a health or social services agency — of which we have an abundance, all residing, appropriately, in the governor’s Cabinet.

S.107 has some other strange little quirks as well. Most notably, bumping up the size of campaign donations that candidates for governor can accept, from $3,500 to $5,000. When senators debated the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Sen. Chip Campsen explained — as though it were the most obvious thing in the world — that the cap had to be raised by some amount since the lieutenant governor and governor would now run as a team.

I don’t have a philosophical objection to raising the cap; when it’s been tried before, supporters have made the reasonable argument that the limit hasn’t been increased since its creation in 1991. But the logic in this case was … well, there wasn’t any.

No one asked why, since there will be just one campaign instead of two, the combined ticket necessitated an increase in the amount of money anyone could give a gubernatorial campaign. It was as though they all took it for granted that any candidate whose name appears on the ballot has a God-given right to accept a certain amount of money, even if the candidate is merely a sidekick.

Nor did anyone ask why the cap needed to be increased for all the other statewide officers, as the bill provides.

Nor did anyone ask why this bill should be the vehicle for amending the campaign finance law to raise the contribution limit every election by the rate of inflation. Again, not necessarily a bad idea, but one that you would expect to find in a campaign finance bill, not a bill about the duties of the lieutenant governor.

Sen. Gerald Malloy did ask why the donation cap for legislators and local officials needed to be doubled, from $1,000 to $2,000, noting that “I don’t want the public to think we’re taking an opportunity now to increase the limits that we have.” The committee quickly voted to eliminate that change.

I never understood why it was OK for a lieutenant governor to preside over the Senate if he ran for statewide office on his own, but not if he was selected by the governor. After all, Senate presidents haven’t had any real power since senators voted two decades ago to strip them of the authority to appoint conference committee members. (The Judiciary Committee decided to delay deciding who will serve as Senate president.)

But the idea of removing the lieutenant governor as Senate president was one of those quirky demands senators made in return for making the lieutenant governor a running mate. The more familiar one, of course, was not letting gubernatorial candidates pick their running mates until after Gov. Haley was gone.

Logical or not, history suggests it could be a popular change. For as long as I have covered elections, candidates for lieutenant governor have vowed to do bigger things than simply preside over the Senate, which many saw as a pesky distraction. The lieutenant governor’s office, they all said, provided an important statewide platform. Their primary role would be as an invaluable partner for the governor, who would call on them regularly to do important work.

Soon, they’ll get to try out that theory. And if they find themselves frequently donning funeral black, they might come to understand that cliche about being careful what you wish for.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.

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