COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — For weeks, political intrigue swirled in South Carolina over a part-time position no one seemed to want, especially for just six months.
How hard was it to find someone to become lieutenant governor in South Carolina? Well, Republicans in line for the job refused. And Democrats — who haven't won a statewide race in South Carolina since 2006 — weren't exactly tempted either. Finally, a state senator whose re-election was in doubt offered to take the seat.
The saga reminds some people of when John Nance Garner, vice president of the U.S. under Franklin Roosevelt, said the No. 2 office "is not worth a bucket of warm spit," (or in some accounts, something even more vulgar).
It would help if states gave their second-in-command more responsibilities, said the executive director of the National Lieutenant Governor's Association. "It is the second-highest ranking elected official in the state. You can make it into whatever your state needs," said Julia Hurst, executive director of the association.
South Carolina's constitution says the office of lieutenant governor's post — when vacated — is to be filled by the powerful president pro tempore of the state Senate. So when Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned in 2012 after pleading guilty to spending campaign money on personal items, GOP Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell was legally mandated to take over the office. McConnell's friends told him that it was the biggest political sacrifice in South Carolina history.
Others weren't so ready to sacrifice when McConnell decided to step down as lieutenant governor after two years on the job to become president at the College of Charleston. The next Senate leader, John Courson, adamantly refused to be lieutenant governor — he even stepped down as Senate president pro tem to avoid being forced to take the job. And on and on. Not one of the state's 28 GOP senators wanted it.
Finally, a Democrat volunteered. Sen. Yancey McGill, who had faced a very difficult primary in 2012 and won by only 81 votes, agreed to become president pro tem of the Senate and thus be elevated to the post of lieutenant governor.
The position of lieutenant governor is up for election this year. Not even all the candidates want the job: the second-place finisher in the Republican primary dropped out two days after the race. The first- and third-place GOP finishers face each other in the runoff Tuesday. One or the other will face Democrat Rep. Bakari Sellers in the November ballot. McGill didn't become lieutenant governor until Wednesday, and so he missed the March deadline to file for the race for the $46,545 a year part-time job.
Connecticut is the only other state that pulls the next lieutenant governor from such a powerful position. Other states use a different officeholder or leave the office vacant. The hesitancy to give up power to be second banana isn't new in the U.S.
Future President William Henry Harrison asked U.S. Sen. Daniel Webster to be his running mate in 1840. "I do not propose to be buried until I am really dead," Webster replied. The famed orator missed out. Harrison died 32 days into his term.
Being a lieutenant governor doesn't necessarily banish one to a political wasteland. The National Lieutenant Governor's Association crunched numbers that show about one in every four governors in the past 100 years spent some time in the No. 2 office before being elevated whether by election or a governor leaving office.
And Hurst said another encouraging trend is giving lieutenant governors more power. In South Carolina, the second-in-command has three jobs — take over if the governor can no longer serve, preside over the state Senate and a new position added 10 years ago — overseeing the state Office on Aging. Most states give their No. 2 job even more power. Indiana's lieutenant governor has 42 different responsibilities. Colorado and several other states put the No. 2 person in charge of higher education.
"The office of lieutenant governor can be and should be anything the state wants to make it," Hurst said. That is a far cry from what the first U.S. vice president, John Adams, thought of his job. In a letter to his wife, he called the No. 2 post "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived."
Lieutenant governors do sometimes get a chance to shine. In Virginia, the governor was out of the country when a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech University and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling received praise for leading the initial response. In Iowa, the lieutenant governor is the state's Homeland Security director and took charge of recovery from floods that covered hundreds of square miles in June 2008 and caused $10 billion in damage. In Minnesota, the lieutenant governor also is the commissioner of the state Transportation Department and in 2007, dealt with a major bridge collapse in Minneapolis.
So being the second-in-command may not be the path to obscurity that Thomas Marshall, U.S. vice president under Woodrow Wilson, joked about. "Once there were two brothers," Marshall said. "One ran away to sea, the other was elected vice president. And nothing was ever heard of either of them again."
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP .