There are rumblings in Columbia about either eliminating the office of Lt. Governor or making the Lt. Governor be appointed by the Governor. The past two Lt. Governors of South Carolina beg the question to be examined. Former Lt. Governor Andre Bauer’s lead foot and current Lt. Governor Ken Ard’s campaign finance woes are fuel for the political fire that is reforming the office.
That said, the office of Lt. Governor of South Carolina is steeped in history and has had political giants occupy it. During royal rule of South Carolina, the Lt. Governor represented the people and Assembly of the state while the Governor was a royal appointee. Under the current constitution of 1895 that South Carolina currently operates under, the intention of the crafters was not as cynical as the so called reformers want people to believe. They claim that the fear of African Americans being elected to high office made them dissipate powers. The office of Lt. Governor flies in the face of that. The crafters wanted the President of the South Carolina Senate to be elected by the entire state of South Carolina.
For years, that prominent position was filled with politicians of great merit. The job was sought by longtime legislators and others who were politically plugged in. Since 1895, seven Lt. Governors, Miles McSweeney, Thomas G. McLeod, Ransum Judson Williams, George Bell Timmerman, Ernest F. Hollings, Robert McNair and John West went on to be Governor of South Carolina. They entered the Lt. Governor’s office with proven resumes and after their terms as Lt. Governor and Governor, they went on to strong careers. McSweeney was a influential newspaper man. McLeod served as President of the Bishopville Telephone Company. Williams served on college boards. Timmerman became a respected judge. Hollings became a long term United States Senator. McNair became the state’s most prominent lawyer in his time. West became Ambassador of the United States to Saudi Arabia.
Other Lt. Governors who did not go on to become Governor have had success after the job. Lt. Governor Earle Morris went on to serve several terms as Comptroller General of South Carolina. (Morris did have some legal woes when he retired from the office of Comptroller General, but as he died about six weeks ago, VUI will not go into that and instead remember what the man did in public service.) Lt. Governor Nancy Stevenson was the first woman in South Carolina history elected to statewide office and instituted the Lt. Governor’s writing contest for school children. Lt. Governor Nick Theodore lost a close race for Governor to Governor David Beasley, but became a close advisor to Governor Jim Hodges. Lt. Governor Bob Peeler lost the Republican nomination to Governor Mark Sanford but went on to serve on the Clemson Board of Trustees.
In sum, serious people held the office and they accomplished things. The office began to change in 1995. Lt. Governor Bob Peeler was elected as the first Republican Lt. Governor since Reconstruction. The Democrats who controlled the State Senate at the time were already frustrated with some things that Lt. Governor Theodore had done. Add to that the idea of a Republican sitting as President of their body and they used their majority status to strip the Lt. Governor of a number of presiding powers. When Republicans gained control, President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell seemed unwilling to give those powers back to the Lt. Governor. Thus, the office seemed weak to those who were in the know about it.
That resulted in people who were not as prominent seeking the office. Why would a senior member of the General Assembly or a member of Congress give up their seat to seek an office that could not do anything? Lt. Governor Bauer worked to get the Office of Aging under the Lt. Governor to offset that notion. But, it did not.
Bauer’s own lead foot, and whatever else he brought to the office came to diminish the office further when Governor Mark Sanford faced the AWOL/Appalachian Trail scandal in the summer of 2009. Two factors came up that damaged the office. Rumors swirled that the Lt. Governor was not fit to take over the job as Governor and more importantly, rumors swirled around the state capitol that President Pro Tempore McConnell was not interested in the least in giving up his power to be elevated to Lt. Governor as state law would do if Bauer took Sanford’s place. Such illustrated that being a senior state senator from Charleston was far more desirable than holding the office of Lt. Governor.
As a result, a list of relative political lightweights sought the office of Lt. Governor in 2010. That resulted in a Florence County Council member, Ken Ard, being elected to what is still the second highest state office.
That brings us to the charges the Ethics Commission brought against Lt. Governor Ard. Frankly put, after reviewing them, VUI believes that the majority of the charges could be easily shot down by a good lawyer as legitimate campaign expenses. However, there are a few charges, such as football tickets and things like that are likely going to stick. But, it was Ard’s reaction to the investigation that hurt him the most. That comes from being a political lightweight. It also comes from being a Lt. Governor under a Governor who leads a band of revolutionaries with a scorched Earth policy to get their way in appointing offices. A more seasoned politico on the state scene would have handled the situation better. They would have friends that would not allow things to get to this.
Some call that the good ole boy system or the privileged class. Whatever. But, in years past, a small time politician from Florence County would have had no chance of being elected Lt. Governor, and once elected there is no way that a bunch of under qualified thirty year olds making a hundred grand a year working for the Governor would have dared to paint the Lt. Governor in such a way in the Columbia circles. But we should not let those well paid for insiders who call people names destroy the institution of the office of Lt. Governor because of the perceived weakness of Lt. Governor Ard. The Lt. Governor needs to realize the office he holds and realize the history of it, and stand up, smartly, for himself and his office. Since our state’s beginning, the office of Lt. Governor has had an important role for South Carolina. It still can, if the current occupant decides to fight for not only himself but his office.
For the office, Lt. Governor Ard should fight the charges that are weak and just write a check for the charges that are strong. Then, Ard ought to be go on the attack about folks around the Governor who pushed this to cover up her own problems. This ain’t Florence County, Lt. Governor Ard, you are playing in the show now and history and the people of South Carolina demand you step up. Think of all the men and the one woman who sat in that chair. They deserve you to step up, along with the people of South Carolina. Either resign your office or fight. Anything in between is an insult the history of the office.