Daily Archives: March 9, 2012

A Gov. McConnell might be a GOOD thing for SC

Now I’m going to get WAY out ahead of events, and do some real blue-sky speculating.

Glenn McConnell is now, to his great chagrin, our lieutenant governor. That means two things:

  1. He’s had to give up arguably the most powerful position in our government.
  2. If the governor leaves office precipitously, he will be our governor.

Several people have already speculated that, knowing Nikki Haley as we do, they would not be surprised if she suddenly left office, and not in the way she may fantasize about doing. What might be the final straw for her? I have no idea. But after the stuff we’ve seen around here the last few years, I’m not sure anything would surprise me any more. None of us who knew him thought Mark Sanford would be off in Argentina cheating on his wife. (Although, of course, he weathered that.)

Some have even speculated that McConnell is privy to information that could lead to such an eventuality. I don’t believe that.

But let’s just say it did happen. And it wouldn’t have to involve scandal. Say, for instance, Jim Demint were named Romney’s running mate (shudder) and she appointed herself in his place.

Then, we’d have a Gov. Glenn McConnell. Which is something I have never had cause to contemplate before. I couldn’t imagine him ever lowering himself (by his lights) to seek the office. But now we have at least the possibility that at some point it could drop into his lap.

So I’m thinking about it.

And what I’m thinking is that it could turn out to be a positive thing for South Carolina.

Oh, he’d often be pretty maddening, because of his ideological idiosyncrasies. But he would take the job of governing well seriously — just as he has always taken the job of senator — and would have a better idea of what that means than anyone who has held the office since Carroll Campbell, or even Dick Riley.

The last person even to run for governor who had as clear an understanding of how government works in South Carolina was when Joe Riley ran in 1994. Of course, Joe would have been a wonderful governor, far better than McConnell, because he also has a deep understanding of the state’s needs, and no ideological objections to using the power of government to address them. And for that matter, knowledge of the system isn’t everything. Take Vincent Sheheen. Vincent has more understanding of the system than most senators (which is why he has been a thoughtful reformer), just not as much (I think) as McConnell. But Vincent would be far more interested in using the bully pulpit of the governor to help our state catch up to the rest of the country economically and in other ways.

But while McConnell would be more reactive, and much more parsimonious in the exercise of power, when he did act, it would be with a sense of responsibility and wisdom, which are things that have been in short supply in that office.

You may not realize that about him. People tend to caricature him as the guy who likes to dress up and play war, and spend money on Hunley.

But while I’ve given him grief over the years for resisting reform (at least, when it involves empowering the executive branch), I know that he has been a significant reformer in his own right. He is responsible for tremendous improvements, for instance, in our judicial selection process, making it much more merit-based. It’s not the reform that I would want — I want the governor to appoint, and the senate confirm, making the political branches co-equal partners in shaping the third branch. But as a defender of the legislative prerogative, he nevertheless saw the need to inject merit into the system, and reduce the influence of mere political popularity and horse-trading. He succeeded in doing that, which was a considerable achievement, and we reap the benefits today.

I think he would do things like that as governor. He wouldn’t want to change things, but when he saw the need for action, he would act to the best of his ability.

And the best of his ability, as the most skilled parliamentarian of his generation, would greatly exceed the skill we’ve seen in such a position in many a year. Once he made up his mind to reform something, it would flat get reformed.

Sometimes — perhaps all of the time — in politics, the best candidate for an office is the person who would never, ever seek it. In a Gov. McConnell, were such to come about, we just might see the truth in that.

Topping off today’s news, Ard pleads to 7 counts

After the ground-shaking news of Glenn McConnell surrendering power, this is sort of anticlimactic:

Columbia, SC (WLTX) – Former South Carolina Lt. Governor Ken Ard pleaded guilty Friday to seven counts of state ethics violations.

Ard appeared in a Richland County Circuit courtroom at 2 p.m., about an hour after South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson revealed the state grand jury’s indictment against the embattled politician.

Wilson told reporters that a state grand jury indicted Ard for what Wilson calls the “creation of a fictitious campaign.”

Here’s the indictment that Alan Wilson told about at his presser, along with video.

From that event:

Wilson said Ard was trying to create the impression of a groundswell of support for his candidacy. The contributions were what Wilson called “phantom” contributions –and unusual for South Carolina.

“To our knowledge, the creation of such a fictitious campaign had never been criminally charged before in this state’s history,” Wilson said.

The charges are misdemeanor charges….

As misdemeanors go, though, it was a lulu.

Sen. Glenn McConnell takes a bullet for SC, accepts the useless, nothing job of being Gov Lite

As I said earlier today, the only way Glenn McConnell would give up power to be lieutenant governor would be if he felt that his personal honor as a gentleman was at stake. And it appears that that is just what has happened:

Stepping into the role is McConnell, who is giving up one of the most powerful positions in all of state government for a mostly ceremonial role whose only duties are to preside over the Senate and run the state Office on Aging.

Speaking with reporters after a closed-door meeting in his State House office, McConnell said becoming lieutenant governor is “a personal sacrifice” but his reading of the state constitution makes it clear that the Senate President Pro Tem has a duty to become lieutanant governor when the post is permanently vacated.

“After much thought, prayer and discussion, I have decided that I have a moral obligation to my oath of office and to the constitution of this state,” McConnell said in a prepared statement. “It is an obligation that compels me to do the right thing no matter how difficult it may be to me personally.”

McConnell said he expects be sworn in on Tuesday. McConnell would not say who his preference was to replace him as the leader of the Senate, and he did not rule out the possibility of running for his state Senate seat again in four years.

Wow. What a weird, back-handed way for the mighty to fall.

This is the one really significant thing to have happened in all of this. Whether Ken Ard had continued to be lieutenant governor or not was of no consequence (which is why you never caught me paying much attention to the matter one way or the other). It doesn’t matter who the Gov Lite is, unless the governor dies or leaves office suddenly. But the most powerful man in the Senate, who has done more than anyone else to set the course for the General Assembly for the last couple of decades, has just walked away from power (for now).

That’s really something.

Whatever happens next, I must say — my hat’s off to you, senator.

Fall from grace says something about being Ken Ard, but almost nothing about being Republican

The State tried this morning to foreshadow the Ard resignation with two stories. One speculated on how Glenn McConnell will dodge the unthinkable fate of being demoted to the useless, meaningless job of lieutenant governor. The other dealt with the phenomenon we’ve seen plenty of over the last couple of years — the state Democratic Party’s Sisyphean efforts to somehow turn recent scandals to its advantage. An excerpt from the second one:

An agriculture commissioner indicted for cockfighting. A state treasurer indicted for cocaine use. A married governor caught lying about an international affair. A lieutenant governor spending campaign contributions on iPads. A state House member indicted on tax-evasion charges. Another state House member arrested on harassment charges.

What do all of those politicians have in common? They are all SC Republicans…

A brief comment on that (which I had on my mind before the Ard development): I’ve heard that litany over and over from SC Dems over the last couple of years, and it hasn’t gotten traction yet. Perhaps this latest development will give it a boost, but probably not. Nor should it.

There’s a simple reason why so many scandals affect Republicans: Most state officeholders are Republicans. If the Democrats dominated the way the Repubs do, most scandals would involved Democrats. There is nothing inherent in being a Republican that makes a person more likely to be a crook (or whatever), and it’s disingenuous of Democrats to pretend that there is.

Of course, they’re counting on the way voters have been fooled into thinking about politics to help them. Far too many people today believe what the parties, interest groups and tell them — that something that happens involving one member of a party somehow reflects on all member of that party. This is an absurd proposition, but like sleep-teaching in Brave New World, it has been repeated so often — with no competing views being heard — that most people accept it implicitly.

There is only one sense in which there might be an actual cause-and-effect relationship between being Republican in SC and being a the sort who would do something unsavory: People who are attracted to politics for the wrong reasons are more likely to pick the dominant party, to ease their path into office. People who choose the hapless, minority party are generally True Believers and less likely to be hustlers. Right now the Republicans are the dominant party. To suggest that Democrats would be more virtuous if they had all the power strains belief.

But  my ultimate point is this: Each person who behaves badly in office does so in his own way, and for his own reasons — not as a logical, direct result of his party affiliation. And its silly to pretend otherwise.

Ken Ard to resign; Alan Wilson to hold presser

Lt. Gov. Ken Ard says he’s resigning this morning. His statement:

“I want to thank the great people of South Carolina for the incredible opportunity to serve as their Lieutenant Governor. It truly has been an honor and an experience I will never forget. The love and support you have shown my entire family has been humbling and something I will always remember.

“I also want to thank my family, especially my wife, Tammy, and my three children, Jesse, Mason, and Libby. You have lived this experience with me. There were challenges and setbacks, but you were steadfast in your support and were there for me at every turn.

“To those who volunteered and worked on our campaign, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You were always there and never expected anything in return.

“To my staff, I have nothing but praise. Your professionalism and work ethic have been exemplary from day one. You have remained focused on carrying out the duties of our office in spite of other distractions.

“To all of the above and more, I owe a great apology. During my campaign, it was my responsibility to make sure things were done correctly. I did not do that. There are no excuses nor is there need to share blame. It is my fault that the events of the past year have taken place.

“I regret the distraction this has caused for the people of this state, my family, my staff, and other elected officials in South Carolina. It is because of these mistakes that I must take full ownership and resign from the Office of Lieutenant Governor. Once again, I am deeply sorry and take full responsibility for the entire situation.”

Meanwhile, there’s this as well:

State Attorney General Alan Wilson will hold a 1 p.m. news conference today at the State House along with State Law Enforcement Division Chief Mark Keel.

The media event follows the announcement this morning from embattled Lt. Gov. Ken Ard’s office that he will step down from his second-in-command post in the Senate.

Ard, a Florence Republican, is the focus of a state Grand Jury investigation related to his spending of campaign cash.

The assumption is being made (and perhaps confirmed off the record; I don’t know) that the AG’s presser deals with Ard. Maybe it does; maybe it doesn’t. Could be something else. We’ll see.