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:
- He’s had to give up arguably the most powerful position in our government.
- 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.