Unless you spend a good deal of time watching South Carolina State House broadcasts on ETV, not many people are aware that an actual sword hangs behind the Senate podium whenever lawmakers are in session. The State’s Tim Dominick took a great photo of Lt. Gov. Ken Ard sitting next to the sword before session began on Tuesday, almost as if he’s waiting to be beheaded in some medieval political ritual.
In a way, that’s exactly what’s happening as Ard awaits an impending indictment from the state grand jury on a slew of campaign finance violations dating back to his 2010 campaign. Ard was rumored to be resigning either today or tomorrow as part of a plea bargain, but carried on Senate business as usual Thursday afternoon after refusing to comment on the legal and political allegations that are rapidly closing in upon the Florence Republican.
And so, Ard Watch 2012 continued into its 230th day on Thursday as what seemed like the entire State House press corps staked out the lieutenant governor’s office and the state Senate in anticipation of the latest update in a saga that had already been drawn out entirely too long. In the meantime, the main topic of conversation in the State House lobby is what will happen to Ard’s job after the current lieutenant governor’s purple robe is confiscated — one way or another.
As Palmetto Public Record reported last week (and confirmed today by The State’s Gina Smith), Republican Sen. John Courson of Columbia likely intends to seek the lieutenant governor’s position once it becomes available. But Courson’s biggest roadblock is the constitutionally-mandated order of succession, which would automatically give Ard’s office to Senate President Glenn McConnell. McConnell, for his part, couldn’t care less about the lieutenant governor’s largely ceremonial office or the silly purple robe that comes with it — though for a guy who likes to pretend he’s a Confederate soldier during his spare time, we figured the idea of playing dress-up all day would be a little more appealing.
Luckily, McConnell and Courson appear to have solved everyone’s problems by working out a little three-step dance move we’re calling the “State House Shuffle.” Here’s how it works:
- Immediately after Lt. Gov. Ard resigns or is removed from office, Sen. McConnell steps down as Senate President
- Republican allies elect Sen. Courson as the new Senate President, triggering the order of succession which immediately makes Courson the lieutenant governor
- Sen. McConnell is re-elected as Senate President, and everyone is happy (except, of course, for Ken Ard)
Courson has been eyeing Ard’s job for some time now, as we reported last week, and several State House insiders believe the Columbia senator is coordinating the timing of Ard’s indictment with Republican Attorney General Alan Wilson for political gain. But the success of Courson and McConnell’s State House Shuffle depends on Ard accepting a plea bargain and resigning, rather than fighting the ethics charges in a drawn-out (but no doubt entertaining) public trial.
There are really only two scenarios waiting to be played out after the grand jury acts. Either Ard resigns, and the State House Shuffle begins the musical chairs of 2012 for state office holders, or the lieutenant governor decides not to go quietly and ends up fighting the ethics charges. That would throw all of the political machinations and scheming that hinges on Ard’s removal into turmoil, which means there’s added pressure on Ard to step down quickly.
One way or another, it seems like everyone in the State House is waiting for the sword to drop. When it finally does, count on Palmetto Public Record to let you know what happens.