COLUMN: South Carolina’s governor in waiting
Whatever you think of his politics, Paul Ryan is among the best and the brightest, a leader in the Congress not because of patronage but because he’s smart and capable and has leadership qualities. Whatever you think of his politics, or his gaffes, the same was true when Joe Biden was picked as the Democrats’ vice presidential candidate four years ago.
In fact, while there have been some notable exceptions, it is usually the case that vice presidential candidates bring much more than just their home state electoral votes to the ticket.
In many cases, all indications are that they would make better presidents than the person at the top of the ticket.
And once elected, the president puts them to work.
In fact, since they are partners, with important work to do, it’s often hard to remember that the only reason we have a vice president is to provide continuity, in the form of someone who has been approved by the voters, prepared to step in if the president is incapacitated.
Now think about the analog in South Carolina: the lieutenant governor.
With the exception of our current accidental lieutenant governor, former Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, I can’t think of a single lieutenant governor since I moved to South Carolina in 1986 who would have made a good governor.
We’ve had some candidates for the position who might have been up to the job, but they lost.
Can you say Ken Ard, whose conviction for misreporting and misusing campaign funds forced Mr. McConnell to give up the most powerful position in the Legislature and descend to the lieutenant governor’s office? Or Andre Bauer, whose reckless exploits on the highways and the campaign trail are too numerous to recount?
And working as a partner to the governor has been the too-rare exception – last truly occurring when Dick Riley was governor and Mike Daniel was lieutenant governor. Even when the governor and the governor-in-waiting have not been declared enemies (and frequently they have been that), they certainly weren’t teammates.
Each had his or her own agenda, and, at best, ignored the other. Hardly a way to ensure continuity should something happen to the governor.
Not that lieutenant governors have had much of any way to advance their agenda. Until the Legislature moved the Office on Aging out of the Medicaid agency and plopped it down in the lieutenant governor’s office for the sole purpose of providing a political base of support for the lieutenant governor to cultivate, there was nothing for the lieutenant governor to do but preside over the Senate – and twiddle his thumbs.
The Senate hardly needs an outside presiding officer, as it made quite clear when it changed the rules a few years back to strip the lieutenant governor of his power to appoint conference committee members, and as it makes clear whenever the lieutenant governor decides he needs to spend his time campaigning for governor, or avoiding the media spotlight, instead of doing his day job.
My preference has always been to eliminate the position, since we have so rarely needed to utilize it for its intended function. To the contrary, one of the main reasons then-Gov. Mark Sanford was able to remain in office after he so thoroughly disgraced himself and our state was that so many people (myself included) were horrified at the prospect of Mr. Bauer stepping in as chief executive.
But if we’re going to have a lieutenant governor – and for as far as the eye can see, we are going to have a lieutenant governor, the Legislature having shown absolutely no interest in abolishing the position – we ought to do our best to improve the quality of the officeholder, and his working relationship with the governor, in the unlikely event that he does have to step in.
And we ought to increase the chance that someone (i.e., the governor) will give the lieutenant governor something useful to do with his time, so that we’ll at least get our money’s worth. (We spend a half-million dollars a year providing a security detail for the governor-in-waiting.)
Fortunately, finally, we have an opportunity to do that.
With all the focus on the presidential election, and the fiasco of our ballot access, and all the goofy things the Legislature did and important things it didn’t do since then, it’s easy to forget that this spring, lawmakers set this process in motion.
In November, we will be asked to amend the state constitution, to allow the gubernatorial candidates to select their running mates, just like the presidential candidates do, rather than having the lieutenant governor elected independently.
The change would not take place until 2018, a ridiculous but necessary concession to good sense in order to win Senate approval of the measure.
It’s an opportunity we dare not squander. If we say no, we won’t get a second chance.
Cindi Ross Scoppe is an associate editor with The State newspaper in Columbia.