Senate shift: McConnell set to take Lt. Governor's oath

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH, AP) - There is a game of musical chairs about to happen at the State House this week as senators will choose a new leader after Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell is sworn in as the next lieutenant governor.

Former lieutenant governor Ken Ard resigned last week just hours before pleading guilty to political corruption charges, setting in motion a power shift in state government.

McConnell is set to take the oath on Tuesday.

"It's not an office I sought, it's not an office I wanted, but, I'll go make the best out of it," said McConnell on Monday.

According to the state Constitution McConnell is next in line for the slot because of his Senate President Pro Tem position, which is one of the most powerful spots in South Carolina politics. The Charleston Republican has held the position for more than a decade, and many questioned whether he would look for a loophole in Constitutional law to hold on to his place in Senate leadership.

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McConnell says he was initially advised to resign his position, therefore, avoiding the promotion, protecting his Senate seat and allowing him to be elected to Senate President Pro Tem again. However, the 31-year Senate veteran says that was not an option.

"I knew what that provision in the Constitution was. I knew what the letter of the law was. I knew I could spin it," said McConnell. "It just wasn't the right thing to do."

McConnell's departure from Senate leadership comes at a time when the state Senate is already in a state of flux. Veteran lawmakers Phil Leventis and John Land, both Democrats, and Republican Greg Ryberg recently announced they would not seek another term, leaving the old guard in that chamber depleted.

But, analysts say McConnell's largely ceremonial role as lieutenant governor presiding over the Senate, will still provide a steady hand in changing times.

"With Senator Ryberg, Senator Land, and Senator Leventis (not running again) the Senate has lost some institutional memory," said USC political scientist Mark Tompkins. "Having Senator McConnell there, now Lt. Governor McConnell there, will help the Senate continue to function effectively."

The Senate could vote Tuesday on McConnell's replacement as President Pro Tem. Senators seeking to replace him are Education Committee Chairman John Courson of Columbia and Majority Leader Harvey Peeler of Gaffney.

If neither is tabbed for the position it could signal a shift in power in the Senate. However, observers say anything other than a logical, business-as-usual choice while question marks are swirling around state government in the wake of a political scandal, will not be beneficial.

"If it were somebody else then we'll be scratching our heads about what does that mean and what's going to happen next," said Tompkins. "My intuition tells me that it will be business pretty much as it has been and that serves the state well for giving us stability and predictability in a time of great challenge."

There will be a special election held to fill Glenn McConnell's soon-to-be-vacant Lowcountry Senate seat, and he hasn't ruled out running for his old seat again.

"I don't know if that's in the cards at this point," said McConnell. "The people I've represented would have to speak to me very loudly and say we want you to come back."

If McConnell were to run again and win the seat it would set in motion the same series of events that started when Ard resigned on Friday.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)