COLUMBIA — Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin said Tuesday he’s urging Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell to wait two weeks before resigning as South Carolina’s No. 2 politician.
McConnell has said he plans to submit his resignation Thursday and say goodbye after three decades in public office. The 66-year-old former senator becomes president next month of the College of Charleston.
But Senate President Pro Tem John Courson, who’s next in line to become lieutenant governor, reiterated Tuesday he will not leave his Senate seat to temporarily step into the position.
“One cannot be forced to take any position,” said Courson, R-Columbia.
Martin said he’s encouraging McConnell to wait until June 19 to officially resign. While Thursday is the last day of the regular session, legislators are set to return in two weeks to take up the governor’s vetoes on the budget.
Voters elect a new lieutenant governor in November. In the last week, both McConnell and Gov. Nikki Haley have said the lieutenant governor position should not stay vacant until January – representing a rare public agreement between the two.
The lieutenant governor’s duties are presiding over the Senate and overseeing the state Office on Aging. McConnell says the state needs a lieutenant governor to perform tasks a legislator can’t, like presenting a budget to the governor this fall.
But Courson said the office’s staff can do that.
As long as McConnell holds off a bit longer, “it would be ridiculous for the pro tem to give up his Senate seat,” Martin said.
But if there’s an official vacancy before the Legislature wraps up its work, that could cause problems in getting bills, including the state budget, to the governor’s desk, he said.
Every bill must be ratified. That involves the House speaker and the Senate’s leader verifying through their signatures that their chambers approved a measure. If the lieutenant governor is not available to sign off, the Senate president pro tem does so. But if Courson lends his signature while the office is vacant, that could mean he’s automatically lieutenant governor, Martin said, according to his interpretation of the state constitution.
Courson, first elected in 1984, has been Senate president pro tem since succeeding McConnell in March 2012. McConnell gave up his 32 years of seniority in the Senate to reluctantly become lieutenant governor following the resignation and guilty plea of then-Lt. Gov. Ken Ard over campaign-spending violations. Political observers expected McConnell to resign as pro tem long enough for someone else to step into the No. 2 spot, but McConnell said he could not contort the state constitution’s designated lines of succession.
Courson says this time is different, since no one’s needed to preside over the Senate in the off-session and voters will elect McConnell’s replacement in five months.
Unlike in 2012, there’s no talk of Courson temporarily stepping aside, as no other senator is willing to fill in as lieutenant governor until January, either.
“We don’t have anyone in the Senate who wants a one-way ticket out,” Martin said.
The post has been vacant six times in the last 135 years, most recently from 1965-1967.
Under the state’s lines of succession, Courson would still be the person to assume the governor’s duties, should something happen to Haley. That’s because the next in line after lieutenant governor is the Senate president pro tem.