COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Senate President Pro Tem John Courson will not relinquish his Senate seat to temporarily become lieutenant governor, he told The Associated Press on Monday.
“While serving as lieutenant governor is certainly a great honor, I have my hands full,” he said. “I will not under any circumstances” serve in the state’s No. 2 spot when Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell becomes president of the College of Charleston, Courson said.
The college’s board unanimously selected McConnell, an alumnus, on Saturday. He is expected to start July 1.
McConnell reluctantly became lieutenant governor two years ago after Ken Ard resigned and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor ethics violations just 14 months into his term. For McConnell, it meant giving up his position as the state’s most powerful lawmaker - as both president pro tempore and Judiciary Committee chairman, with 32 years of seniority - to assume a role largely viewed as ceremonial. Political observers expected him to resign as president pro tem long enough for someone else to become lieutenant governor. But McConnell said he could not contort the state constitution’s designated lines of succession.
Senators then elected Courson, R-Columbia, their new president pro tem.
Courson, an insurance executive first elected to the Senate in 1984, said Monday that the lieutenant governor’s slot doesn’t need to be filled this time because any vacancy would occur after the legislative session ends and months before voters choose McConnell’s replacement.
The Democratic and Republican primaries are June 10. The general election is Nov. 4. Candidates’ two-week period to file for a spot on the ballot ends Sunday. Courson made clear he won’t run for lieutenant governor: “I am not nor will I be a candidate for that office.”
There is speculation that McConnell could keep his lieutenant governor’s title through the end of the term. McConnell did not return messages for comment Monday on that possibility. The state constitution bars dual office-holding. But it’s unclear whether the definition of office applies to a college presidency. The attorney general’s office declined to give any opinion.
The constitution considers the lieutenant governor a part-time position. The job’s main duty is to preside over the Senate. The legislative session is supposed to end in June.
If McConnell does resign before taking the college’s helm, “by then, both political parties will have nominated candidates, and the Senate won’t be in session,” Courson said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, who succeeded McConnell in leading that committee, said it doesn’t make sense for Courson to end his Senate career only to occupy the lieutenant governor’s post during the off-session of an election year.
“It was a different situation” with McConnell, said Martin, R-Pickens. “I wouldn’t see the point of any pro tem of the Senate giving up their position very unceremoniously for just a few months prior to an election.”
Senators had hoped no other president pro tem would confront such a question.
Within weeks of McConnell being sworn in as lieutenant governor, the Senate approved asking voters whether the governor and lieutenant governor should run on the same ticket. For years, efforts to put the joint-ticket question on the ballot had died in the Senate. If it had passed earlier, McConnell noted then, he likely would not have had to relinquish his seat.
That’s because the amendment, which voters approved in November 2012, also changes who presides over the Senate and how a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office would be filled. But that amendment, not yet ratified, would not take effect until the 2018 election. The Senate voted last March to ratify voters’ decision and change the constitution. The House has yet to vote on the ratification measure.
The amendment calls for the Senate, starting in 2019, to choose its own presiding officer. If the lieutenant governor’s post becomes vacant, the governor would appoint a replacement to fulfill the remaining term.
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