From the floor of the South Carolina Senate on Wednesday afternoon, Columbia’s Sen. John Courson resigned as president pro tempore of that body in order to avoid becoming lieutenant governor.
According to media reports, Courson coupled his abdication with a call for Gov. Nikki Haley to ask outgoing Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell to serve out the remainder of his term.
Courson’s move was brought about by McConnell’s recent announcement that he will leave the office of lieutenant governor Thursday in order to take up his duties as incoming College of Charleston president. Previously, McConnell had indicated he would serve out his term till year’s end. Once he becomes president of the college, McConnell is expected to lobby his former colleagues to pass a bill allowing the college to expand into a research university, a major priority for some Lowcountry lawmakers.
As Senate president pro tempore, Courson was next in line to assume the largely powerless, figurehead role of lieutenant governor upon McConnell's departure, but he’s said he has no desire to abandon his senate office of 30 years in order to be lieutenant governor for five months before a new one is sworn in.
In 2012, McConnell himself abandoned the president pro tempore role in the Senate to become lieutenant governor following the scandal-precipitated resignation of then-newly elected Ken Ard. He’s publicly urged Courson to follow suit.
Following Courson’s resignation, Sen. Nikki Setzler (D-Lexington), who serves as minority leader, thanked him for putting the Senate before himself in stepping down as its leader. He also decried the “pure unadulterated politics” that had forced Courson to do so.
Majority Leader Sen. Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee) echoed Setlzer’s sentiments, saying he wants “to get to the bottom of the politics on this.” Peeler, noting that he had run against Courson for president pro tempore in 2012 and lost, also said he looks forward to nominating Courson to return to the office.
The nature of the politics and the players to whom the senators referred were not entirely clear to observers.
The office of lieutenant governor is responsible for presiding over the Senate, on occasion breaking gridlock with his vote, and for overseeing the Office on Aging. The part-time position pays $46,000 a year.
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