One of the worst-kept secrets in South Carolina politics is that Senate majority leader Shane Massey – who is said to be a slightly more conservative than the typical Palmetto State “Republican” – is running for governor in 2022.
Massey’s ambition is so transparent, in fact, there is a popular meme at the S.C. State House that gets forwarded around whenever people ask whether he is serous about challenging incumbent “Republican” Henry McMaster (and others) in next spring’s GOP gubernatorial primary.
The meme …
Here’s the real question, though … why would Massey want to be governor?
As I noted in a post assessing his aspirations back in December, state government in South Carolina is a legislatively dominated operation. The legislative branch of government effectively controls the other two branches thanks to the Palmetto State’s archaic constitution of 1895.
Governors have a veto pen (which few of them ever use) and a bully pulpit. That’s about it.
“(This) antiquated, acephalous, anti-competitive structure of government ultimately dilutes (executive) accountability – and holds the Palmetto State back from reaching its full potential on any number of fronts,” I wrote.
Given his status as a leader within the S.C. Senate – the dominant chamber in the S.C. General Assembly – why on earth would Massey want to exchange his growing legislative influence for the constitutional impotence of the state’s splintered executive branch?
“Winning that office would be a demotion, at least as far as raw political power is concerned,” I concluded.
In light of all this, a Massey campaign for the governorship seems to be an incredibly short-sighted proposition – although in fairness to him, there is limited political risk involved. Because state senators do not appear on the ballot again until 2024, Massey could campaign without having to give up his seat. He would only be compelled to vacate the Senate were he to become governor … which, again, would seem to be the least preferable outcome.
Also, campaigning for governor would afford him a larger platform from which to advance his issues – as well as a network he could leverage toward his ends in the legislature.
Again, though … winning the race would be a demotion.
Whatever his future plans may be, my guess is Massey’s calculus is undergoing a fundamental recalibration in light of the latest news regarding S.C. Senate finance chairman Hugh Leatherman. As my news outlet exclusively reported yesterday, Leatherman – the most powerful politician in state government over the past two decades – has been returning campaign checks to donors.
This surprising development – accompanied by reports that Leatherman has been experiencing fresh health problems – has sent shock waves through the legislative branch.
According to my sources, Leatherman has been conspicuously absent from the S.C. Senate during the recent finance committee debate over the 2021-2022 state budget. Also, the diminutive legislative leader – who turned 90 years old today – appeared “frail and disoriented” at the opening of a troubled port terminal in Charleston, S.C. that bears his name, according to a source who attended the event.
“The void that would be created in the event Leatherman were to leave the Senate (however that happened) would be immense – and unlikely to be filled by just one person,” I noted yesterday. “Like him or not, the man is an institution in Palmetto politics – and you don’t just ‘replace’ institutions, you try to straddle the event horizon accompanying their collapse and gradually adapt to the new reality created by their absence.”
Leatherman has been in the Senate since 1981 – and last November he won a new, four-year term that will keep him in office until 2024.
Needless to say, any diminishment in Leatherman’s power – including the potential loss of influence that comes when a politician signals they won’t be running for another term – accrues to the benefit of Massey, Senate president Harvey Peeler, Senate judiciary committee chairman Luke Rankin and any number of other “Republicans” within in the chamber.
(Click to view)
(Via: S.C. Ports Authority)
“It’s going to be a feeding frenzy,” one lobbyist told me.
While the severity of Leatherman’s latest health scare has yet to be determined, his decision to return campaign contributions is significant. At the very least, Leatherman is telegraphing that he does not expect to mount another political campaign – which means the vice grip he has held over the state’s finances for the past two decades is finally showing signs of loosening.
That signals the onset of a massive power vacuum in Columbia, S.C. – one which could result in Massey dramatically expanding his clout. Of course for that to happen, he would have to stay in the legislature – and build on the institutional influence he has accumulated there during his tenure as majority leader.
Stay tuned … I plan on following the various reverberations, machinations and recalibrations accompanying the latest Leatherman news very closely in the weeks and months to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading.
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