“FOR THOSE OF YOU KEEPING SCORE AT HOME …”
In case you missed it, January was a crazy month in South Carolina politics.
The big news? Former S.C. governor Nikki Haley was confirmed as the next United States ambassador to the United Nations. This led to her resignation as governor and the ascension of Henry McMaster as the Palmetto State’s 117th governor.
This, of course, was all planmaessig (according to plan) … a sop for McMaster’s surprise endorsement of U.S. president Donald Trump prior to South Carolina’s pivotal 2016 “First in the South” presidential primary.
Everybody knew it was coming … for months.
The real drama came courtesy of the vacancy created by McMaster’s ascension.
The moment Haley resigned, McMaster became governor – creating a vacancy in his old office that sent powerful S.C. Senate leaders scrambling.
How come? Well, lieutenant governors in South Carolina are part-time officials. They preside over the State Senate, but they have no real power to direct the agenda of that chamber – or any agenda, really. They are ceremonial officeholders – possessing influence only in the event of the death, resignation or removal from office of the governor.
(Click to view)
(Via Travis Bell Photography)
Obviously if you were an influential State Senator – especially a Senate leader – you would have no interest in giving up your immensely powerful position for a politically impotent one. And that’s no matter what the state’s constitution says (and trust us, state lawmakers routinely pay the constitution little mind).
Accordingly, twice in the last three years Republican Senate presidents have sidestepped their constitutional obligations and abruptly resigned their leadership offices prior to vacancies in the lieutenant governor’s office – thus avoiding “ascending” to an office they wanted nothing to do with.
One of them, S.C. Senator John Courson, didn’t get his Senate leadership job back.
The other, S.C. Senator Hugh Leatherman, did get it back – no doubt by virtue of his second leadership title, that of chairman of the chamber’s budget-writing finance committee.
Never mess with the guy who holds the purse strings, right?
Leatherman stepped down just long enough to allow S.C. Senator Kevin Bryant (below) to become lieutenant governor – as we predicted he would do back in early December.
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(Via Travis Bell Photography)
Next, in an overt display of contempt for the constitution, Leatherman ran for reelection to the leadership post he just conveniently abandoned. So much for adhering to one’s oath of office, right?
Anyway, Leatherman didn’t get a free ride. S.C. Senator Harvey Peeler of Cherokee County, S.C. challenged him for the presidency of the Senate – and actually garnered more GOP votes than Leatherman did in the ensuing vote.
Among Republican Senators, Peeler received sixteen votes compared to Leatherman’s ten (including his own vote). One GOP Senator – Lancaster’s Greg Gregory – abstained.
Take a look …
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This website received some criticism from conservative activists for not posting this list sooner. Like us, they detest Leatherman and were eager for us to call him out.
That’s fine. We were always going to do a story on this particular roll call, we were just waiting for the clerk of the S.C. Senate to post the vote online.
Also, at the time this vote was taken we were in the middle of publishing this exclusive story on a brewing scandal involving Leatherman – one which it turns out has created some very real ethical issues for the aging Senate leader.
Priorities, you know?
Anyway … not to defend the nine Republicans who voted with Leatherman but there are some important points to remember about this roll call vote. First, let’s assume Leatherman had not been reelected to his lofty leadership post. Even so, he would have still retained his influential chairmanship of the Senate finance committee – which in addition to being the source of his vast power over the purse strings is also where he derives the vast majority of his executive branch appointment authority.
So yes, he would have been weakened – but not by much.
Also, while we suspect this vote could conceivably loom large in future S.C. Senate races – these partisan primary elections are still three-and-a-half years away.
Just one year is an eternity in politics, people. Which means the GOP Senators who voted on the wrong side of this issue will have plenty of time to redeem themselves.
(Banner via Travis Bell Photography)