Relevancy of SC’s Lt. Governor questioned

Ken Ard’s increasing legal difficulties aren’t the only reason for the growing discussion about whether South Carolina should abolish the position of lieutenant governor, but they’re likely adding a little fuel to the fire, as well.

Ard, barely six months into his first term as the state’s second-highest ranking public office, was charged with more than 100 ethics violations for alleged improper use of campaign money. The State Ethics Commission issued him the second-largest fine in state history.

Earlier this month he agreed to pay a $48,000 fine and $12,500 to cover investigation costs tied to 107 counts of using campaign cash for personal purposes that included a family vacation, iPads, a gaming system and clothing.

In addition, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson has called for the state grand jury to review the campaign-spending case against the lieutenant governor.

Partly driven by Ard’s difficulties, and also by the antics of his predecessor, Andre Bauer, there is increasing debate about of whether South Carolina needs a lieutenant governor. In addition to a story yours truly wrote for The Nerve, The State had this piece Sunday and the Columbia Free Times also mentioned the topic.

The Greenville News, to its credit, wrote about the subject back in early 2010, when a joint resolution by Pickens Republican Larry Martin was first introduced.

A glance at South Carolina history shows that the position is rarely the stepping stone to the governor’s office that it once was.

The last lieutenant governor to step into the role of governor was nearly half a century ago when Bob McNair succeeded Donald Russell.

McNair had been elected lieutenant governor in 1962 and succeeded Russell in 1965 when Russell resigned with the understanding that McNair would appoint him to a then-vacant U.S. Senate seat, which McNair did.

Interestingly, the then-Senate President Pro Tem Edgar Brown, one of the most powerful legislators in the South Carolina history, declined to take the lieutenant governor’s position when McNair moved up, according to Martin.

“He was supposed to move up, but as far as I can tell what happened was he never bothered to take the oath,” Martin said.

As a result, South Carolina had no lieutenant governor from April 22, 1965, until Jan. 17, 1967, when John West took the second-in-command position after being elected in November 1966.

Prior to that, the last time a lieutenant governor took over as governor was in the early 1940s.

Richard Manning Jeffries had been a long-serving state senator and was serving as Senate president pro tem in 1941 when Burnet Maybank won a special election to fill James Byrnes’ US Senate seat in September 1941, after President Franklin Roosevelt appointed Byrnes to the US Supreme Court.

Lt. Gov. J. Emile Harley succeeded Maybank as governor, but Harley, suffering from throat cancer, died less than three months later. Jefferies, who had moved into the second-in-command position, succeeded him on March 2, 1942.

Harley’s three-month term doesn’t make him the shortest governor in SC history, though. That title goes to Charles A. Smith, who ruled for just five days.

On Jan. 14, 1915, rather than personally hand over the reins of power to a successor whose political views were diametrically opposed to his own, the always-delightful Cole Blease resigned as governor five days before Richard I. Manning III was to be inaugurated.

Blease is said to have used red ink to resign rather than relinquish the office to a man “whose philosophy I despise.”

As a result, Smith, the lieutenant governor, served the remainder of Blease’s term, performing largely ceremonial duties.

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