Let’s clarify the Gov Lite succession, but I wouldn’t blame Leatherman for trying to dodge it

Tom Davis

Tom Davis

I’ve been getting Tom Davis‘ highly involved emails about the uncertainty surrounding what will happen with the lieutenant governor position if Henry McMaster becomes governor, but I confess I found them a bit dense and confusing, and didn’t read them all the way through.

So I didn’t fully focus on what he was on about until today, when Cindi Scoppe wrote about the issue, and ran excerpts from Tom’s recent speech on the matter.

Really, really simplifying it, Tom has two issues:

  1. He wants the Supreme Court to clarify a mess created by the General Assembly. Voters wisely decided several years back that we would, starting in 2018, elect the governor and lieutenant governor together. In the past, if there’s a vacancy in the lt. gov. position between elections, the president pro tem of the Senate becomes Gov Lite. After 2018, if there’s a sudden vacancy, the governor will be empowered to appoint a new lt. Unfortunately, the language lawmakers passed to go into the state constitution after the vote failed to specify that the governor wouldn’t have that appointive power until 2018, leaving it open to the interpretation that the governor has that power now.
  2. He wants Hugh Leatherman, who as Senate president pro tem is arguably the most powerful person in state government, to take the gov lite job, which is worth even less than the bucket of warm spit at which vice presidency is valued. Leatherman, quite understandably, isn’t even slightly interested in giving up the Senate post he’s spent his political career rising to.

I’m with Sen. Davis on the first point — the succession needs to be cleared up. Trying to follow what the law exactly is at this moment sort of makes my head hurt.



I’m not with him on the second. If the succession is done the old way, and Leatherman resigns temporarily from the pro tem position so someone else can have it long enough to become lieutenant governor, and he can then summon the votes to become pro tem again, well, more power to him. (Too much power, Sen. Shane Massey would say, but I say it’s up to the senators to decide whether they want their Finance chairman to be pro tem.)

Yeah, if the Court says it still works that way, the pro tem must become gov lite. But that doesn’t specify which pro tem. As we saw just a couple of years back, even if one just became pro tem five minutes ago, you’re the one who becomes lt. gov.

That time around, John Courson didn’t have the votes to quit for a few minutes and be re-elected. From what I hear, Leatherman does.

Yes, technically — if the Court rules that way — being pro tem entails becoming lt. gov. if there’s a vacancy. And Tom Davis seems to believe — as did Glenn McConnell — that this is some sort of sacred covenant that is somehow central to being pro tem. That seems a bit … off to me. I honor McConnell for following his conscience on that, but I’m just not entirely sure that he had the deep, moral obligation that he thought he did.

The voters of Florence County elected Leatherman to be their senator, not to be the lieutenant governor. His Senate colleagues chose him to be their leader, not to be lieutenant governor.

That the job of pro tem contains this condition of suddenly being demoted from the sublime heights to the lower depths of state officialdom, due to circumstances beyond one’s control, seems like a goofy, arbitrary penalty in a particularly capricious game. It’s like landing on Community Chest in Monopoly and getting a card that sends you straight to jail. It’s like an American-Ninja-style reality TV show in which, due to no failing on your part, a trap door suddenly opens under you and you fall into a vat of ice water. It does NOT seem like a provision drafted because it’s a sensible way to run a government. (I think succession laws make eminent sense — when it’s a matter of a promotion, like vice president to president. But this sudden penalty provision seems goofy.)

To respond to something Cindi suggested in her column: It would not be at all OK if the law were found to require the pro tem to become gov lite and Leatherman simply said, “I refuse.” That would be inexcusable, and then we’d have a real crisis on our hands. But if he’s willing to step down and run for the office again after some other poor soul becomes lieutenant governor, I say let him take his chances.

As one of his fellow senators, Tom Davis will then have not only the right, but the duty (since that’s what his conscience dictates) to vote against him, and try to persuade his colleagues to do likewise.

I don’t think this is an open-and-shut thing, and I can think of good reasons to take Tom’s position. But he doesn’t quite persuade me. Maybe some of you can….

9 thoughts on “Let’s clarify the Gov Lite succession, but I wouldn’t blame Leatherman for trying to dodge it

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Wow — NO comments on this?

    I thought at LEAST I’d get a rise out of Doug, who has such strong feelings about Leatherman.

    What’s bad is that I gave myself a stern talking-to, saying, “Self, you’ve got to stop taking the easy route and posting about all the outrageous stuff happening on the national scene, buckle down and tackle a knotty problem right here in South Carolina, the way you used to do at the paper. Blogging is making you lazy!”

    So I did a little research — unlike with national issues, it’s not all right at your fingertips — kicked it around a bit, and posted. And braced myself a bit, because I knew sticking up for Leatherman in this case would be provocative to some…

    And nothing.

    I need some reinforcement, to make me try a little harder and get back to being more local…

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Okay, I’m guilty of not really caring. Explain it to me in practical terms. Why should I care? Beyond being intellectually curious about the legal procedure of succession, that is.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Well, gee, I dunno. Tom Davis was all worked up about it, so I thought other folks might be….

        Also, underlying the legal issues, there’s the matter of whether one wants Hugh Leatherman to be top guy in the Senate. I truly believe Tom when he says he cares about the legal issues, but truth be told, he’s also somebody who doesn’t want Leatherman to have that power, and that sort of colors his vehemence.

        I can easily see someone maybe preferring someone else for the spot, but until I mount up and ride against him, I want to know who that someone else will be.

        For those who don’t keep up with this stuff, the political dynamics of the Senate the last few years have been, as always, idiosyncratic. You don’t have the simplicity of the House, where you have a more of less unified GOP caucus with a few Democrats on the outside looking in.

        In the Senate, you have three significant factions, none of which can be dismissive of the others. You have your run-of-the-mill, normal Republicans. Then you have your Democrats. Then you have your bomb-throwing, libertarian, quirky, Tea-Party, Freedom-Caucus, Club for Growth, Nullification-loving Republicans, a gang that is diverse enough to include both Lee Bright and Tom Davis, to give you an idea of how idiosyncratic things can GET.

        Well, I sort of want to know, before getting rid of Leatherman, that the new pro tem will be an improvement. Leatherman has his problems, but he has this advantage — he’s a fairly normal Republican who holds his position in part because of Democratic support. He’s not one of the fringe guys.

        So, here you have the situation — Tom wants Leatherman to go, and I want to know who’ll replace him before I’m up for that.

        But just as I believe Tom is sincerely concerned about the principle involved, so am I — I think the provision that forces the pro tem to step down and become a nobody just because the lieutenant governor suddenly gets indicted or becomes president of the College of Charleston is kind of wacky. Really? You overthrow the leadership of the Senate over something as insignificant and unrelated as a Gov Lite vacancy?

        So, you know, it’s multilayered…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          To me, it’s always about “what’s the alternative?”

          That was my answer whenever anyone asked, “How could you endorse THAT guy?” Well, look who was running against him.

          Am I a Hillary Clinton fan? No, but look what was running against her.

          Do I think Hugh Leatherman is dynamically leading South Carolina to a brighter future? Not really, but I appreciate him enough to want to know who’s going to replace him….

          This is another one of a number of reasons why I oppose term limits, which Ted Cruz is trying to revive. Advocates for term limits, like Doug, think “new” is by definition “better.” Well, no, it is not. Sometimes “new” is worse than you could ever have imagined.

          Oh, sorry. I was trying to be good and stick to a South Carolina issue. I didn’t mean to bring things back around to Trump…

          1. Claus

            I’m curious, if the roles were reversed, would you say the same thing about Hillary? “Look what was running against him”. Would you really call Hillary a “what”? Not that I’d have anything against it… I do it all the time.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            Yeah, maybe — depending on what was running against her.

            If her opponent had been Kasich or Bush, I might have said, sure, he might not be inspiring, but look what’s running against him.

            I might do that based in the fact that I have a tendency to depersonalize when making decisions. And Hillary is not just a person, but a SITUATION. There’s Hillary the person, then there’s the Bill baggage and the emails baggage and the decades-of-Republicans-hating-her baggage, and a whole big, ugly pile of STUFF — so, a what instead of a who. Or a what in addition to a who.

            But then, I’m careful enough with words that maybe I wouldn’t, because then I’d have to deal with a lot of grief from feminists saying I was turning a woman into an object, which would have nothing to do with what I was saying, but you know they would…

            Anyway, to your point, I do have a tendency to think of Trump as The Creature, and see him as unlike any other human on the planet, so maybe you have a legitimate beef. But that wasn’t ENTIRELY it. To some extent it was just “what” as in, “What are we up against?”

        2. Bryan Caskey

          Okay. Good explanation of the issue. I agree that a powerful position in the Senate (arguably the most powerful position in state government) shouldn’t be affected by a vacancy in the Lt. Gov. position. Seems like the Governor should just be able to appoint anyone they want to the vacant Lt. Gov. position, subject to confirmation by both houses. However, that’s probably just too easy for some reason.

          At the federal level, if the office of the VP is vacant, POTUS nominates, and Congress confirms.

          Maybe it’s just me, but let’s not try to reinvent the wheel here, fellas.

    2. Claus

      Or anyone stating that using the system to their advantage is just wrong? Even from those who blast Trump for his taxes. Leatherman resign and be re-elected President Pro Tem within a 2-3 hour session. Is it right morally, no… is it right legally per policy and procedure, yes. Like I said, South Carolina gets what it deserves by keeping these people in office.

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Something unrelated and REALLY off-topic…

    Google Adsense offered me an ad at the end of this post that intrigued me:


    I couldn’t click on it, because if I do that with ANY Google ad, Google will supposedly come down on me like a ton of bricks and say “No more ads for YOU!” That’s what they tell me will happen, anyway.

    So I went through the rigmarole of right-clicking on it and grabbing the URL and going over to a whole other browser to call up the page…

    And only then did I realize it said “Top 10 Business Intelligence Trends for 2017.” Something I had zero interest in.

    In my initial glance I had thought it said, “BRITISH Intelligence Trends.” You know, like George Smiley and James Bond and Graham Greene and The Ipcress File and, for that matter, Austin Powers. OK, all those are fictional, but I’m also interested in the real-life MI6 — Kim Philby and C and all the rest.

    I was really, really disappointed…


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