MY LAST NERVE: Succession confusion leads to pitfall

December 2, 2016

Inside Insight

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BY PHILLIP CEASE

SC Senate Chamber

With the news that Governor Nikki Haley will be leaving for New York to serve as ambassador to the United Nations once she’s confirmed by the U.S. Senate, there’s been a lot of speculation about the line of succession.

Currently, the South Carolina constitution reads that the governor can, in the event of a vacant lieutenant governor’s office, appoint the lieutenant governor with the advice and consent of the state senate. However, based on a 2012 ballot question that voters passed, the constitution should still require the senate president pro tempore to ascend to the lieutenant governor’s office if there’s a vacancy.

Judging from the media’s coverage, one suspects the senate will follow the public’s intent in 2012 and break with what the constitution currently says.

When it holds its organizational session this coming Tuesday, it will elect its next president pro tem. As of now, the only candidate is current president Hugh Leatherman.

Before a vote has even been taken to put Leatherman in the office, he’s declared he will not break his “pledge” to his constituents to serve out a full term and that he has “no ambition for higher office.”

This attitude is at the root of the problem in the General Assembly.

Any politician, regardless of seniority or amount of power, must be willing to follow not just the law but the constitution. Just because the legislature routinely writes legislation does not give it the ability to ignore the laws or constitution when they don’t align with legislators’ political ambitions.

Legislators believe that the rules don’t apply to them. In this instance, that’s not even the worst part.

If the lieutenant governor’s seat remains vacant and Henry McMaster for any reason leaves the governor’s seat, Leatherman, would perform, according to the SC Code, the duties and exercise the powers of the governor without having to leave his senate seat, until the next general election.

A senator with veto power, the power to appoint magistrates and all other gubernatorial power wouldn’t just be unconstitutional – it would turn the state into a monarchy. The courts would have to step in and, based on the code, the legislature would eventually elect a governor.

Thanks to a dubious change to the state constitution and a senator who wants power without responsibility, it’s turning out to be a dangerously cloudy day in South Carolina.