COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA)—The political dominoes started by Gov. Nikki Haley’s becoming U.S. ambassador to the United Nations finally stopped falling Wednesday at the Statehouse. Senators elected Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, as the new lieutenant governor and re-elected Hugh Leatherman as Senate president pro tempore.
When Haley was confirmed by the U.S. Senate Tuesday and resigned as governor, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster became governor. That left the job of lieutenant governor vacant. The state constitution says the Senate president pro tempore becomes lieutenant governor when there’s a vacancy, but president pro tem Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, resigned from that post Tuesday evening, specifically because he did not want to become lieutenant governor and lose his Senate seat. That’s what set up a political battle in the Senate Wednesday.
Sen. Bryant’s election to lieutenant governor was non-controversial, since no one else ran. Most senators are not willing to give up their senate seats to hold the lieutenant governor’s job, which holds very little power.
Bryant told senators, “It’s an honor to stand in front of you today and begin a journey from proudly serving the people of Anderson County to proudly serving all the citizens of South Carolina.”
Then Sen. Leatherman was nominated to become president pro tem again. Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, ran against him, saying it’s not right to resign just long enough to let someone else become lieutenant governor and then get the job of pro tem right back. “It’s gaming the system. It’s changing the rules to accommodate a politician,” he says.
But Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Conway, said when he nominated Leatherman, “We knew that when we picked him as our president pro tem he would not serve as lieutenant governor.” He said there’s nothing in the constitution that prohibits someone from resigning as president pro tem and then running again later.
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, nominated Peeler and said the constitution is clear, and so is the oath of office the president pro tem takes, in which he vows to uphold the constitution. Massey asked senators, “Does he not swear, while invoking God’s guidance, to perform the one job that the constitution of this state gives him?”
Senators voted 28-16 for Leatherman. Republicans split their votes between the two but Senate Democrats voted for Leatherman, giving him the edge.
Sen. Leatherman promised to continue working for all senators, Republican and Democrat, and said he had made a promise to his constituents to represent them, which he wouldn’t be able to do if he became lieutenant governor and had to give up his Senate seat. As to the charge that he was gaming the system, he said, “Whatever you do, some folk will say you’re gaming the system.”