Former South Carolina majority leader Jimmy Merrill – who resigned from office in disgrace two years ago during the ProbeGate investigation into corruption in state government – is getting back into Palmetto politics. Merrill has taken a job as director of business development with Tompkins, Thompson and Brown (TT&B), a Columbia, S.C.-based government affairs firm.
“Jimmy maintains great relationships with business and civic leaders not only in the Lowcountry but across the state,” former state representative Boyd Brown, a partner in the firm, told us on Friday. “We feel like he will certainly add value to our firm and help us grow our business.”
In reference to Merrill’s checkered past, Brown said “we believe folks deserve a second chance.”
Merrill began his work at TT&B earlier this month, Brown told us. The firm is a partnership between Brown, former state lawmaker Michael Thompson and veteran Palmetto political lobbyist and campaign strategist J. Warren Tompkins.
Merrill represented S.C. House District 99 (map) in the S.C. General Assembly from 2001 until his resignation on August 31, 2017. He was majority leader of the GOP-controlled S.C. House of Representatives from 2004-2008. The day after he resigned his seat, Merrill pleaded guilty to one count of misconduct in office in connection with a host of allegations leveled against him.
Multiple other charges were held over his head pending his cooperation against other targets of the inquiry, but those charges have since been dropped.
Prior to getting caught up in ProbeGate, Merrill was one of the most influential political figures in the Palmetto State. Aside from his legally dubious work at the S.C. State House on behalf of well-heeled special interests, his consulting firm amassed a huge list of political clients.
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One of them? U.S. president Donald Trump. Along with U.S. ambassador Ed McMullen, Merrill was one of Trump’s two South Carolina co-chairmen in 2016 – helping guide Trump to a convincing “First in the South” Republican primary victory over U.S. senator Marco Rubio of Florida, U.S. senator Ted Cruz of Texas and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Trump’s Palmetto State supporters distanced themselves from Merrill as his troubles metastasized, however. He became increasingly isolated and, according to friends, “depressed.”
Our view on the Merrill hire? On the one hand we agree with Brown: Everyone deserves a second chance. On the other hand, Merrill’s return to the state capital will likely be seized upon by those who argue (not incorrectly) that the entire ProbeGate investigation was a farce.
Seriously … wasn’t Merrill facing more than sixty years behind bars?
Reaction to the hire from our network of sources was decidedly mixed.
“I’m glad to hear it,” Republican politico Whit Suber wrote in response to the news of Merrill’s hiring, calling the former majority leader a “very smart guy with a lot to offer.”
Not everyone was as charitable in their assessment, however.
“Jimmy wasn’t all that very well liked among members,” one State House insider told us. “They’re really going out there (by hiring him).”
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