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South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell suspends himself following nine-count indictment

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COLUMBIA, South Carolina — South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell suspended himself from office Thursday, a day after a grand jury indicted him on charges of misconduct and using campaign donations for personal use.

Harrell, speaker since 2005, said in a statement he believes it's the best decision for the House and the people its members represent.

"I have great respect for this institution and for the people of South Carolina," he said. "I have always sought to act in their best interest and continue to do so now by taking this action and suspending myself from office."

Speaker Pro Tem Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, will immediately step up as speaker.

Harrell, R-Charleston, is charged with nine misdemeanor counts.

Lucas said Harrell is doing the right thing according to a law requiring the chamber's top officer — in this case, Harrell — to suspend a legislator charged with a crime punishable by more than one year in prison. The "common law misconduct in office" charge could result in a longer sentence.

Lucas is among at least four House members seeking to be elected speaker during the chamber's organizational session after the November election.

Harrell's suspension from office lasts while the case plays out.

He faces a Democrat and a third-party candidate Nov. 4 in a solidly Republican district. He would not be the first House member to be re-elected while under indictment. But it's unlikely he could be re-elected speaker even if the case quickly wraps up.

The case has been ongoing since Attorney General Alan Wilson accepted an ethics complaint against Harrell in February 2013 and forwarded it to the State Law Enforcement Division for investigation. Wilson announced in January that he sent the case to the state grand jury.

"It's been difficult for the House as a whole to deal with," Lucas said. After two years, "there now appears to be some resolution."

Others reportedly seeking to be speaker are Ethics Committee Chairman Kenny Bingham of Cayce, Rep. Jim Merrill of Charleston, and Ways and Means Chairman Brian White of Anderson. Both Bingham and Merrill are previous House majority leaders.

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