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New job might have saved McConnell’s life
“People have said ever since I came down here, I look healthier and I’ve been healing faster,” said McConnell, the powerful Senate president pro tempore who resigned from a job he loved to take over for disgraced former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard, who was sentenced March 9 on ethics charges.
In December, a rare tick bit McConnell on the neck. He didn’t think much of it. Unfortunately, the tick injected a virus into his bloodstream. McConnell then got asthma after a concrete-pouring project. But the drug to treat the asthma interacted so negatively with the tick virus that McConnell ended up in January in an intensive care unit on the verge of congestive heart failure.
As he was trying to heal, Ard’s shenanigans came to light, causing enormous pressure on McConnell. On one hand, he’d spent more than 31 years building seniority in the Senate so he could be the policy power player that he’d become. But on the other, he knew what the state Constitution really required.
“It would have been easy for me to get the doctor’s excuse that I needed to step down as president pro tem — the stress and everything,” the Charleston Republican said in an exclusive interview this week.
At most, some of his friends advised, manipulating Senate rules and the Constitution to avoid becoming lieutenant governor wouldn’t be news for long.
“I told them it may be a two-day story for y’all, but it will be an everyday story for me when I had to look at myself in the mirror. How can I ever come back to the Senate floor and talk about constitutional compliance and I did the talk but wasn’t willing to make the walk?”
He added, “Constitutions shouldn’t be twisted into something that they’re not and you shouldn’t try to circumvent them, go around them or reinterpret them for your benefit.”
Today, there’s a new Glenn McConnell filled with a new vitality and energy. Yes, he’s still healing. And sure, it’s frustrating to not be able to interject policy and political views as he’s presiding over Senate debates. But a lot of the pressure is off.
“I’m not going to say I’m having fun,” he said. “I will say I am enjoying now what I’m doing. And now that the stress is off of me, I’m able to get more focused.”
McConnell has become an impassioned advocate for the state’s Office on Aging, which is part of the lieutenant governor’s office.
“I have become enthusiastic about my new duties in trying to ensure seniors of South Carolina have a bright future and that the taxpayers of this state know we’ve used best business practices and the best judgment to deal with the problem of improving the track record” of the office.
When he took over, more than 8,000 seniors were on waiting lists to get services from rides to doctors’ appointments to meals to home-based health care. McConnell has lobbied the Senate to restore operational funding for his office in the new state budget — and to add $5 million to the Office on Aging. The move should save money by allowing seniors to get the help they need for a fraction of the cost of being put in a nursing home, he said.
“We don’t have seniors signing up on waiting lists to get in nursing homes,” he said. “They want to stay home.”
Over the next months as McConnell hits the road to talk about aging issues across the state, many will wonder whether he’s going to try to keep the job he never sought — whether he’ll run for lieutenant governor, or even governor.
“I haven’t even opened an account,” he’ll tell you. When pushed, he’ll reflect on what he’s learned this year: “I’m just not going to rule out anything. I learned this year — you don’t know what you’re facing. You take it as it comes and you make a decision based on what’s before you.”
One thing is for sure. We can use a few more Glenn McConnells in Columbia.
- Editor's Note: This story also appeared at the StateHouseReport.com. Photo by Avery Brack.
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