By John Celock
South Carolina just gained its first Democratic lieutenant governor in almost two decades as a series of political maneuvers turned him into the only person who wanted the job.
The South Carolina Senate elected Sen. J. Yancey McGill (D-Longtree) to the vacant president pro tempore job Wednesday in order to put in place a successor to Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell (R), who promptly resigned. McConnell had announced his intention to step down early to assume the presidency of the College of Charleston, but delayed his resignation several weeks until a successor could be found. Sen. John Courson (R-Columbia) stepped down from the powerful president pro tempore job in order to escape succeeding to the largely powerless lieutenant governorship.
South Carolina’s lieutenant governor presides over the Senate and oversees the state’s Office on Aging. While lawmakers are adjourning for the year this week, the lieutenant governor would need to sign bills to send to Gov. Nikki Haley (R) that are passed by the Senate. Haley also said she wanted a deputy in place for emergencies.
McGill indicated earlier this week that he would take on the lieutenant governorship for the remainder of the term that ends in January and temporarily step aside from his Senate seat. The GOP-controlled Senate delayed the vote until Wednesday due to concerns over his being a Democrat. Former Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore, who left office in 1995, was the last Democrat to hold the post.
McGill will have to seek reelection to his Senate seat during a November special election to complete his term that expires in 2016.
Following McGill’s elevation to the lieutenant governorship, senators moved to elect Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence) to take the president pro tempore post, pushing aside Courson. Sen. Shane Massey (R-Edgefield) took to the floor to suggest that Courson had been ousted in a coup.
Massey noted that senators had started to oppose Courson’s return to the president pro tempore office because he had said no to becoming lieutenant governor. He noted that legislation to upgrade the College of Charleston to a research university, which led to McConnell’s quick resignation, could have been helped push along the process as well.
“I am convinced it was a coup,” he said during the floor debate. “It started as a funny conspiracy theory but now I am convinced.”
McGill becomes the third lieutenant governor to fill the four year term. Former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard (R) resigned in 2012 following ethics charges. McConnell then succeeded from the Senate president pro tempore role to the lieutenant governorship but announced he would not seek reelection year.
This year’s election is the last where the lieutenant governor will be elected independently from the governor. In 2018, the two will be elected on a ticket.
State Rep. Bakari Sellers is the Democratic nominee for the lieutenant governorship, while former state Attorney General Henry McMaster and Mike Campbell, the son of former Gov. Carroll Campbell, are likely to face off in a runoff for the GOP nomination. Sellers, 29, could become the nation’s youngest statewide elected official if elected. The title is currently held by Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, 33.