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How we pick lieutenant governors is going off the rails

Pick No. 2

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The new way South Carolina picks its lieutenant governor has gone off the rails.

For years, the governor and lieutenant governor campaigned for office separately, which occasionally led to the odd situation of different parties holding the offices, instead of the lieutenant governor being a junior governor and part of the governor's team.

In the 2012 general election, 56 percent of voters approved a constitutional referendum to allow the lieutenant governor to be elected on the same ticket as the governor. More than five years later in March, legislators finally enacted legislation to make it happen.

The new law makes sense. If something ever happens to the governor — such as being named an ambassador or presidential cabinet secretary — then the governor-to-be automatically will be from the same party as the just-departed governor that the people elected.

More than likely, most folks who pay attention to this stuff probably assumed gubernatorial candidates would pick running mates after the primary election determined each party's nominee. That's how it works in federal politics as presidential candidates name running mates after primaries and generally at party conventions. With much hullaballoo.

In South Carolina, a different paradigm has emerged, even though candidates aren't required to name running mates until August. The reality finds running mates being announced by some candidates before primaries as a way to appeal to a wider swath of voters. Incumbent GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, a longtime politico trying to survive in the Age of the Upstart, named his running mate, Upstate newcomer Pamela Evette, early so she could get to know voters and he could try to thwart a voter climate that distrusts insiders.

Then came Democratic candidate Marguerite Willis of Florence, a seasoned lawyer who named state Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, as her running mate. She got insider kudos for having a ticket of diversity — a white woman outsider balanced by a respected veteran black politician.

And now comes the two other Democrats seeking to be governor — Rep. James Smith of Columbia and Phil Noble of Charleston. Smith has picked Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell, a prominent Lancaster Democrat who practices law. Noble chose Grand Strand resident Gloria Tinubu, a two-time congressional candidate and former member of the Georgia legislature.

None of the other Republican candidates — Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Kingstree, Mount Pleasant lawyer Catherine Templeton or Greenville businessman John Warren — have announced a running mate.

But what the other four candidates have done is troubling because they've taken away their opportunity to pick a running mate from the very people who have been racing across the state talking with people before primaries — their gubernatorial challengers.

If Smith wins, for example, he can't now pick Willis or Noble. The same goes for the other two. And if McMaster wins his primary, he now can't keep Bryant, who is growing into his job as lieutenant governor.

Lawmakers privately say that when they changed the law, they envisioned a process like what happens in presidential contests — that the first big decision by the nominee would be to name a running mate. For Barack Obama, who picked former presidential aspirant Joe Biden, the choice worked out. For Sen. John McCain, who picked relatively unknown Gov. Sarah Palin, the choice didn't work out at all.

Some now say what's happened with lieutenant governor picks in South Carolina actually might be good because it provides transparency before the primary so voters can know that first big decision early.

But others worry it diverts voters' attention away from the gubernatorial candidate who will be the top elected official in the state.

"I've been robbed," one political insider complained.

I agree and note that some people who are working really hard won't be able to be a running mate because of the way things have played out. While the announced running mates all seem to be good folks, not having current candidates have the chance to be picked for the number two job could be a loss for South Carolina.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report.

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