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D.C. Musical Chairs: S.C. Government Could See Major Upheaval




Suddenly it’s not just the ongoing investigation into alleged corruption at the S.C. State House that’s threatening to shake up the Palmetto State’s power structure …

In a development that could dramatically redefine South Carolina’s political landscape, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump appears to be seriously considering S.C. governor Nikki Haley for a top spot in his administration in Washington, D.C.

In fact Haley – who expended inordinate amounts of her political capital against Trump over the course of the past year – will meet with the victorious politician in New York this week.

Crazy, huh?  Indeed …

Early rumors have Haley being considered as a possible choice for secretary of state – which is arguably the most prestigious of all presidential cabinet appointments.  Other reports have Haley under consideration for secretary of commerce.

Assuming South Carolina’s second-term chief executive were to accept one of those posts – or another offering from Trump – she would resign as governor in January and head to Washington, D.C.

What happens next could prove chaotic …

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(Via S.C. Governor)

S.C. lieutenant governor Henry McMaster – who unlike Haley was a major Trump supporter – would be in line to become the state’s next governor.  McMaster has made it abundantly clear he covets this post – and doesn’t want to take a job in Washington.

This week, though, McMaster told The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier that he “would do whatever he could to help Trump” – adding that he was also under consideration for several prominent posts in the new administration.

Conventional wisdom holds that McMaster wants to ascend to the governor’s office in January and then seek a full four-year term in 2018 as the incumbent in that race.  Assuming things shake out that way, the 2018 gubernatorial election – which was shaping up to be quite a crowded affair – could clear out rather quickly.

More immediately, though, a Haley appointment could have major repercussions on the balance of power in the S.C. General Assembly.

Assuming Haley were to resign for a job in Washington and McMaster were to become governor, powerful S.C. Senate president Hugh Leatherman would be forced to follow McMaster into the largely ceremonial lieutenant governor’s office.

On paper that sounds like a promotion, but anyone familiar with how this drama played out last time knows it is actually a major demotion – one the wily former Democrat will no doubt take great pains to avoid (assuming he is able to do so).

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Hugh Leatherman

(Via Travis Bell Photography)

Leatherman, a diminutive 85-year-old liberal, is currently the president of the State Senate and the chairman of its powerful budget-writing finance committee.  By virtue of these two positions, he is hands-down the most powerful elected official in South Carolina – a state where supreme power is vested in the legislative branch of government.

The lieutenant governor’s office?  Not only is it a part-time, largely powerless post in an impotent executive branch – but whoever “ascends” to it in the event of a January 2017 vacancy would only hold the job for two years.

How come?  Future lieutenant governors will be elected as part of a ticket beginning with the 2018 campaign.

Now, supposing both Haley and McMaster were to accept positions in the Trump administration – in other words, resigning simultaneously – Leatherman would actually wind up becoming governor of South Carolina.  Again, though, that would be a major downgrade in terms of real power.

Adding a layer of intrigue to the mix?  Leatherman and Haley are currently at each others’ throats over the latter’s failed bid to take out the former in a June 2016 primary election.  Leatherman has vowed to block Haley’s agenda at every turn, meaning she has little reason to stay in Columbia, S.C. for the next two years.

Frankly, we’re amazed Trump would consider Haley for any job in Washington after the way she repeatedly attacked him during the GOP primary election (and the way she stayed on the sidelines during his shocking upset win over Hillary Clinton earlier this month).

Apparently Trump has decided to keep his friends close, and his Republican “friends” closer.

Stay tuned … there are any number of twists and turns this drama could conceivably take over the course of the next few weeks.  And assuming Haley were to receive a nomination to a high-profile post in Trump’s administration, let’s be honest – there’s no guarantee her confirmation hearing wouldn’t wind up detonating any number of potential land mines from her checkered past.

Bottom line?  Grab the popcorn, people.  South Carolina politics is about to go national.

(Banner via Travis Bell Photography)