COLUMBIA — South Carolina senators must choose a new leader after Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell is sworn in today as the next lieutenant governor.
McConnell, arguably South Carolina’s most powerful lawmaker, has been president pro tempore since shortly after Republicans took control of the chamber in 2000. The full Senate will vote on his successor as early as today.
Republican senators vying for the title are Education Committee Chairman John Courson of Columbia, a seven-term veteran, and Majority Leader Harvey Peeler of Gaffney, in his eighth term.
The Senate’s decision follows a tumultuous Friday in which former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned in disgrace and McConnell announced he would assume the role. Ard pleaded guilty to seven counts of campaign fraud hours later. He was sentenced to five years’ probation and 300 hours of public service for deceiving the public during his 2010 run with fictitious campaign donations and, after winning, using campaign money for personal use.
McConnell, 64, was expected to side-step the move, resigning as president pro tem long enough for someone else to become lieutenant governor. But the attorney chose not to out of a sense of duty to uphold the constitution’s designated line of succession.
First elected in 1980, McConnell gives up being both president pro tem and chairman of the Judiciary Committee for a role largely seen as ceremonial.
The Senate’s 27 Republicans – 26 when McConnell takes his new oath – control the 46-member chamber.
Both the Republican and Democratic caucuses plan to meet behind closed doors at 11 a.m. today before the full Senate votes.
The official duties of president pro tempore include appointing a senator to conference committees, appointing people to various state commissions and generally leading Senate debate.
Media outlets, including The Associated Press, have argued that discussions on who assumes the powerful role should be open.
Sen. Larry Martin, who becomes the next Judiciary Committee chairman, said Tuesday’s meeting will not be limited to discussions of the president pro tem.
McConnell made clear Friday that his move set a precedent, which means the next president pro tem would need to become lieutenant governor if the office became vacant again. Some have urged McConnell to file for his own open Senate seat, allowing him to resign the post of lieutenant governor and return to the chamber as a senator. McConnell suggested he would not do that but noted he made an oath both as president pro tem and to the people of his Senate district.