It’s hard to think of a more common sense change to state law than combining the governor and lieutenant governor onto one electoral ticket. After all, the state’s lieutenant governor only has one real duty: To step in if the governor becomes incapable of fulfilling his or her duties. It makes sense that the state would be better served by a duo that works together well to minimize the confusion that could occur in such a case and smooth any transition.
Without such a change, for instance, we could once again be in the unusual position (as we have been multiple times in recent decades) of having a lieutenant governor of one political party and a governor of another.
But few people are disputing the logic of the proposed combination of the ticket, to be voted on as a constitutional amendment on this year’s ballot. What has – somewhat bizarrely – generated more consternation is the concurrent proposal removing the lieutenant governor from his position as president of the state Senate. A number of the political candidates we talked with in recent weeks brought this proposal up and cast it as a sneaky, underhanded power grab by devious senators, determined to free themselves from the leavening influence of the lieutenant governor’s presence. If we may sum up that conspiracy notion in a word: Twaddle.
Why do we not worry about taking the lieutenant governor out of the Senate? First of all, because he’s often absent anyway. Those who watch sessions of the state Senate will notice that the role of leading the Senate often falls already to the Senate president pro tempore, elected by his or her peers. Secondly, the only role of real consequence the lieutenant governor plays in the Senate is to break a voting tie. How often does this come up? Extremely rarely. One legislative watcher could remember only one case in the past 25 years of any significance. According to the rules the Senate follows, if that tie-breaking vote is not available, then the vote fails. Requiring a majority of our state’s elected senators to agree on a subject before it passes does not seem such a bad thing.
Those who fear some great increase in corruption and malfeasance as soon as the lieutenant governor doesn’t show up for work in his blue Senate president robe can put those fears to rest. There remain numerous checks and balances in the system, not least of which is the governor’s veto power, as well as her bully pulpit and her political allies in the legislative bodies. The judicial branch will continue to hold both other branches accountable to the letter of the law. The S.C. House has long existed without any member of the governor’s office involved in its leadership, and frankly it’s not a bad thing to further disentangle South Carolina’s executive and legislative branches.
We have no qualms about this amendment to our state’s Constitution and see it only as another important step toward a more logical, modern, streamlined government.