Opinion

Ravenel's replacement

Thomas Ravenel will have his day in court. But the charges against him are serious enough to warrant Gov. Mark Sanford's decision to suspend him as the state's treasurer.

Ravenel was indicted Tuesday on federal charges of buying an amount of cocaine less than 500 grams and sharing it with others. The indictment was a single paragraph long and offered no other details, although U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd stated that Ravenel did not sell any of the drugs. The charge of distributing cocaine carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and fine of up to a $1 million.

The governor has the authority to suspend state office holders in cases of alleged moral turpitude, and Sanford exercised that authority soon after the charges against Ravenel were announced. If Ravenel is found not guilty or if charges are dropped, he could return to his post as treasurer. However, if he resigns or is found guilty, the state Legislature would choose a permanent replacement to fill out his term.

For now, however, Sanford has named Columbia attorney Ken Wingate to take over immediately as interim treasurer. Wingate, we think, is an excellent choice and someone who should be in the running to replace Ravenel if that becomes necessary.

Wingate, 47, is a Columbia accountant and attorney. In 2003, he was chairman of Sanford's Management, Accountability and Performance commission, a panel appointed by the governor to seek ways of cutting fat from the state budget. He also served on Sanford's gubernatorial transition team, and also now serves as a member of the Commission on Higher Education.

Ironically, perhaps, Wingate ran for governor himself in 2002 in a GOP primary field of seven candidates, which also included Sanford. Although Wingate has not held elective office, he has had ample experience in state government and should have no trouble taking over the day-to-day operations of the treasurer's office or assuming his new duties as one of the five members of the state Budget and Control Board.

If Ravenel is convicted of this serious drug charge, it will amount to a stunning political implosion of one of the state Republican Party's stars. Ravenel first ran for public office in 2004 at age 41, seeking the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retirement of long-time Democratic incumbent Ernest "Fritz" Hollings. Ravenel finished third.

In 2004, he won a close race to become the Republican nominee for state treasurer. Insiders said he had been mulling a challenge to U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, also a Republican, in 2008, but pledged not to after winning the nomination to run for treasurer. He beat another long-time Democratic incumbent, Grady Patterson, in the general election.

Ravenel was considered an up-and-comer in the party, a young, good-looking multi-millionaire with a solid political pedigree. His father is Arthur Ravenel, a former U.S. representative and state senator from Charleston. The younger Ravenel was seen as a possible contender for governor or for another run at a U.S. Senate seat. He also was state campaign chairman for Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

But barring an exoneration, his political future is nil, and supporters and detractors alike will be left to scratch their heads and wonder how someone with so much power and potential could be foolish enough to throw it all away.

IN SUMMARY

Wingate is a good choice to serve as interim treasurer after Ravenel's indictment.

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