The indictment of S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell has shaken up the Legislature even before voters have a chance to head to the polls this fall. And it’s caused some critical remarks from some members of York County’s delegation.
The indictment of Harrell is “the best thing that could happen for the people of South Carolina who want sunshine on the way elected officials do business,” said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, after Harrell “lost the trust of the people of this state for the way he did things.”
A frequent Harrell critic after supporting the Charleston Republican initially, Norman ran against Harrell for the speaker slot in 2010 but was soundly defeated. Norman said he ran against Harrell in 2010 on “principle,” even knowing that he would lose, because the people of the state deserve better.
Norman was supported in his quixotic quest for the speakership by fellow York County representatives Tommy Pope and Gary Simrill, who weren’t as caustic in their reactions, but still welcomed the speaker’s indictment on nine separate charges related to Harrell’s use of campaign funds.
“I’m glad to see the process play out,” said Pope, R-York. “For two years, this cloud was hanging over the House, and I’m glad to see it begin to move, even if I’m not glad for Speaker Harrell and his family or for (Solicitor David) Pascoe for having to prosecute the case.”
It’s unclear if Harrell will be be able to compete in a vote to remain as speaker when the House reconvenes in January. The severity of the charges approved by a Columbia grand jury Wednesday could force the body to suspend Harrell from his seat before the rest of the membership meets to decide who wields the speaker’s gavel next term.
Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, is next in line to take over at least temporarily.
“The fact the Legislature is not in session means there’s no interruption to the House’s duties,” said Simrill, R-Rock Hill, who believes the indictment shows “the system works. No one person is more important than the law.”
While Simrill wouldn’t say whether Harrell should step down immediately – commenting “that’s up to him” – he does think the indictment may be too much to survive. “I’ll wait to see what his response is, but it would be extremely difficult for someone to continue if they’re under an indictment like this,” he said.
Pope said if Harrell should run again for the speaker’s chair, he would not support him. Norman said he would not seek the speakership again, but he would “wholeheartedly” support Lucas as the next speaker.
If Harrell does not step down as speaker, Norman said, he is confident that he and other legislators would work for Harrell’s removal.
The only Democrat in the Legislature from York County, John King of Rock Hill, called the indictment of Harrell a “game changer” not just for the Republican Party, but for the Democratic caucus and black caucus groups.
Neither the Democrats nor the black caucus have made a commitment to any candidate to replace Harrell, King said, but he is confident that the Democrats and black leadership will demand a candidate who will “listen to the concerns of the constituents of our districts.”