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The dreaded promotion: South Carolina's lieutenant governorship

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April 29, 2014

South Carolina

By Garrett Fortin

Columbia, South Carolina: No one wants to be Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina. Well, at least two people would rather be elsewhere. The current lieutenant governor, Glenn McConnell, is quitting to become a college president.[1] But his presumptive successor, Senate President Pro Tempore John Courson, has said that he won't step up.[2] Ballotpedia's State Executive Officials team investigates.

An unusual dilemma...

The Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina, Glenn McConnell is stepping down in June 2014 to take a job as president of the College of Charleston. Under South Carolina's constitution, the next step in the line of succession after lieutenant governor is the president pro tempore of the South Carolina State Senate, John Courson. Courson has been in the senate for almost thirty years and chairs the education committee. His election as president pro tempore by his colleagues presumably demonstrates that he is a leading senator. For Courson, moving from the senate into the lieutenant governorship seems to be a step down in terms of political stature. He has said that he will decline the office once it becomes available and continue his career in the senate.[1]

The resulting vacancy would last for seven months until January 2015, when the lieutenant governor elected in November 2014 takes office. The only agency the lieutenant governor oversees, the South Carolina Office on Aging, has said that they will be unaffected by this long absence.[2]

...but not unprecedented

McConnell became lieutenant governor in the exact same way. Back in 2012, then-Lieutenant Governor Ken Ard fell into scandal after an ethics probe found that he had reported fictitious donations and had spent campaign cash on personal items. Ard pleaded guilty to seven misdemeanors and resigned on the same day.[3]

At that time, McConnell was the president pro tempore of the senate and reluctantly stepped up to fill the vacant lieutenant governorship. He said at the time: "It is more important that I exercise the duties of the office for which I have been elected and uphold my oath. I will not contort the words of both the Constitution and my oath of office to keep a position that I might personally prefer." Fascinatingly, another senator said that he wanted to become lieutenant governor if McConnell chose to remain in the senate: John Courson, the man who now refuses the same elevation.[4]

The office's lack of appeal does not seem to be new. According to The State, "The office has been vacant for long stretches – six times since 1879 – after lieutenant governors succeeded governors, according to state records. The openings, created when governors have become U.S. senators or taken federal appointments, have lasted from five months to two years. The last vacancy stretched from 1965-67, when one of state’s most powerful Senate presidents, Edgar Brown, declined to ascend to the lieutenant governor’s seat."

The first occurrence of this phenomenon can be traced back to 1783. Richard Beresford, the lieutenant governor elected in February of 1783, ran for, and won, election to Congress in March of that same year. An election was held in August to find his successor. Alexander Gillon won that election on August 22, 1783, but decided to decline the position on August 27, 1783. The next election was held on February 16, 1784 and William Moultrie finally took over the seat which he held for one year.[5]

List of former South Carolina Lieutenant Governors

Click "show" to expand and view the full list.

A weak lieutenant governor

See also: Compensation of state executive officers

The lieutenant governorship might be undesirable for these people because they do not want to take on an office with fewer responsibilities and less power. The office only has two responsibilities: to break ties in the senate, which are very rare in the current political climate, and oversee the South Carolina Office on Aging. Outside of the Office on Aging, the Lieutenant Governor has only five staff and a fraction of the budget: in the fiscal year ending in 2013, 97% of the appropriations for the Lieutenant Governor's Office went to the Office on Aging.[6][7] In fact, the Lieutenant Governorship gained the Office on Aging as recently as July 2004.[8]

The lieutenant governor's salary reflects this lower stature. Currently, McConnell has a salary of $46,545, while the college presidency he is leaving to take up pays a reported $380,000.[9] The lieutenant governor has the lowest salary of any statewide official in South Carolina, making about half of the next lowest salary.[10] It also falls short in comparison to the 42 other states with elected lieutenant governors. The table shows that South Carolina's Lieutenant Governor's salary is ranked 39th.[10]

Compensation of lieutenant governors by state

State Ranking (out of 43 states) Annual Salary
South Carolina 39 $46,545
Arkansas 40 $41,896
Virginia 41 $36,321
Idaho 42 $35,100
Texas 43 $7,200
Source: Council on State Governments[10]

Could the office be abolished?

See also: Lieutenant Governor office comparison

Given all of this, is abolishing the Lieutenant Governorship a possibility? Other states have taken this route in the past, with seven states total having no elected lieutenant governor. Five states do not have a lieutenant governor position, including: Maine, Arizona, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Oregon, while in Tennessee and West Virginia, the president of the state senate is the de facto lieutenant governor. The position of lieutenant governor is equivalent to that of Secretary of State in four other states: Alaska, Hawaii, New Jersey and Utah.

Just recently, Illinois became the latest state to consider the fate of its Lieutenant Governor. On April 11, 2013, the Illinois House of Representatives took the first step by approving a proposal to eliminate the position of lieutenant governor by constitutional amendment. The proposed amendment still would need to pass the State Senate and a public vote to come into force.[11] There have been at least 10 attempts to eliminate the office since 1970, but this attempt was the first to be passed by the House.[12] In the past, Illinois has had problems with lieutenant governors either wanting to be somewhere else or getting on the wrong side of the law, similarly to South Carolina.

See also: South Carolina Gubernatorial Elections, Amendment 1 (2012)

And indeed, there was discussion in South Carolina about abolishing the office three years ago during the Ken Ard saga. Two articles below in the additional reading section show the debate over the office's relevance and future. This debate resulted in a constitutional amendment, championed by Gov. Nikki Haley, that would allow gubernatorial candidates to choose their running mate for lieutenant governor and run on a joint ticket.[13] The voters approved this ballot measure in the 2012 elections.

But the reform, to Governor Haley's displeasure, was delayed until the 2018 elections.[14] This means that she will not be able to pick her lieutenant governor in 2014. Instead, various candidates are running for what might be a vacant seat and will certainly be a dead end office, since the next governor will choose whomever they like in 2018. So, between now and then, the South Carolina Lieutenant Governor's office could be vacant a few more times.

See also

External links

Additional reading