SC Politics

SC Senate: Will ‘Republicans’ Finally Act Like Republicans?

Or will GOP’s expanded edge prove another disappointment for fiscal conservatives?

The South Carolina Senate has been in “Republican” control for nineteen years. Of course, as we have seen over that time period this has done little good for the Palmetto State – as fiscally liberal, anti-free market policies have remained order of the day.

Should anyone be surprised, though?

Two of the three most powerful members of the S.C. Senate – finance committee chairman Hugh Leatherman and judiciary chairman Luke Rankin – are “former” Democrats who switched partisan identifiers, but have always maintained their allegiance to big government.

Not surprisingly, this left-of-center “governing majority” has done nothing but harm taxpayers.

According to recent state ratings compiled by the American Conservative Union Foundation (ACUF), the Palmetto State “has the most liberal lawmakers of any state in the country where Republicans control both the legislature and governor’s office.”

We have been making this very argument for the better part of the past decade – and thankfully ACUF and other national groups have begun to pick up on the narrative.

Will anything change in 2021?

Possibly …

Fiscally conservative lawmakers are buoyed by the fact that three Democrats were defeated in this week’s Republican romp across the Palmetto State – including a surprising upset in S.C. Senate District 27 (.pdf). There, newcomer Penry Gustafson narrowly defeated veteran Democrat Vincent Sheheen without the help of the state’s Republican establishment.

Meanwhile, the GOP successfully defended seats in the South Carolina Lowcountry which Democrats believed they had dead to rights.

The end result? A 27-19 seat GOP advantage in this chamber has now expanded to a 30-16 Republican margin – which affords the majority party all sorts of flexibility in advancing its agenda.

Assuming its leaders can get on the same page …

The S.C. Senate currently has a 26-vote cloture requirement – meaning it takes 26 votes to move a bill through the chamber over the objection of the minority.

In years past, Leatherman, Rankin and other “Republicans” – including state senator Larry Grooms – have allied with the chamber’s Democrats to block pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty, pro-free market legislation.

Now, the GOP can afford to lose up to four of its own members and still advance legislation.

“You won’t see us lose another life vote,” one lawmaker told us, referring to the infamous 2018 debacle in which the GOP-controlled chamber failed to advance a bill that would have banned nearly 6,000 abortions annually in the Palmetto State.

That legislation was blocked by Democrat Marlon Kimpson – and Republicans couldn’t muster the votes to overcome his filibuster.

Curiously, though, the previous year the GOP was able to shut down a filibuster of a gasoline tax last year led by senator Tom Davis of Beaufort, S.C.

“Funny how that works,” we observed at the time.

Will the new chamber be more inclined to protect life, liberty and prosperity?

In addition to votes on the floor, the expanded GOP majority also means more Republicans will be added to Leatherman and Rankin’s committees – which could lead to a significant realignment of those committees.

Such realignment on the finance committee could have profound implications when it comes to the state’s bloated budget – which was growing by leaps and bounds prior to the shutdowns associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Senators rammed through another expansion this fall, but were rebuffed in a rare show of fiscal discipline by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives and governor Henry McMaster.

“How does that alter Leatherman’s approach?” one lawmaker wondered. “Does he have the votes to move a budget without appeasing the conservative wing of the party? How do these new members alter the internal dynamics of the caucus?”

These are all important questions, but conservative members of the Senate feel their position has improved significantly in the aftermath of the 2020 vote.

“The Senate is fundamentally altered for the better,” one member of the chamber told us.

We will adopt a “trust but verify” approach to that pronouncement. And as always, we will be sure to keep our readers informed as to which members of this chamber are standing up for citizens’ and taxpayers’ best interests – and which ones aren’t.




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(Via: Columbia SC Photographer Travis Bell)

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