In one fell swoop last Friday, Glenn McConnell went from being the most powerful person in the state Senate to being the weakest. Before Ken Ard resigned, McConnell was the Senate president pro tempore, which meant he got to make many important appointments and call a lot of the shots when Senate was in session. But the Charleston County senator and 31-year veteran of state politics was placed in a tenuous situation when his peers voted him into the position of authority: If the lieutenant governor were incapacitated or kicked out, McConnell would have to take his seat.
The move to lieutenant governor might sound like a promotion, but aside from taking over the State Office on Aging, McConnell's responsibilities in the Senate are now largely ceremonial. As Post and Courier columnist Brian Hicks pointed out, the lieutenant governor is basically the Senate's babysitter (although political consultant Richard Quinn, in an interview with the Associate Press, has predicted that McConnell could elevate the office of lieutenant governor by playing an active role in the legislative process and participating in debates).
When news broke last Thursday that Ard would likely resign, politicos started speculating on whether McConnell was going to take the effective demotion or resign from his Senate seat, forcing someone else to become Governor Lite while he staged a comeback by running in the provisional election for his own Senate seat. But on Friday, he announced that he was going to abide by the state constitution and take the oath of office on Tuesday. Still, he left himself an out, saying he would not necessarily serve the remaining two and a half years of Ard's term.
This is where the wheeling and dealing starts — and the speculation.
According to one political operative familiar with the workings of the Senate caucuses, if McConnell now decides to resign as lieutenant governor, a likely candidate to replace him as president pro tem — and, by succession, as lieutenant governor — is Sen. John Courson, a Richland County Republican with 26 years under his belt. This would keep a Republican in the lieutenant governor's office (just in case Gov. Nikki Haley runs any further afoul of her legislative colleagues and gets thrown out of the governor's mansion) while allowing McConnell to run for his Charleston Senate seat again and reclaim the pro tempore mantle.
For Republicans, there are two problems with this scenario, though. For one, McConnell might not be a sure bet to win back the District 41 Senate seat. The last time he ran opposed, in 2004, Democratic candidate Justin Kahn took 36 percent of the vote. In 2008, Charleston County voters gave Barack Obama the nod on the presidential ticket.
The other problem is with Sen. Courson's district: Columbia attorney Robert Rikard, a Democrat, has announced his intentions to run against Courson in November, and he already claims to have $65,000 on hand for the race. If Courson vacates his Senate seat to become lieutenant governor, Richland County Republicans will have to scramble to put up a viable candidate against Rikard in the resulting provisional election.
Filing for a special election to fill McConnell's vacated seat will open March 30 and close April 9. If Ard had not resigned and McConnell had kept his Senate seat, McConnell would have been up for re-election this November.