One of South Carolina governor Henry McMaster’s erstwhile allies in the S.C. Senate is considering running against him in next spring’s Republican gubernatorial primary election – setting up what would be a contentious intra-party battle.
State senator Katrina Shealy – one of several lawmakers who has blistered McMaster for his disastrous mishandling of the state’s juvenile justice agency – told me Wednesday morning that she is looking at her options for the June 2022 primary election.
“I am considering it,” Shealy confirmed.
Shealy, 66, was first elected to the S.C. Senate in 2012 – defeating incumbent “Republican” Jake Knotts as a petition candidate. She has caucused with the GOP ever since her election, and has won two terms as the Republican nominee for S.C. Senate District 23 (.pdf).
A staunch advocate for children, senior and other vulnerable populations, Shealy has made reform of the governor’s cabinet agencies one of her top priorities. In fact, she was intimately involved in McMaster’s decision to hire Tennessee bureaucrat Michael Leach to head up the scandal-scarred S.C. Department of Social Services (SCDSS).
Leach has been praised by lawmakers for his reforms at SCDSS since his hiring in 2019, although I noted last December that “the jury is still out” on the effectiveness of those measures.
More recently, Shealy has tried to work with McMaster to address glaring issues at the S.C. Department of Juvenile Justice (SCDJJ) – which has descended into utter chaos under the “leadership” of the governor’s hand-picked director, Freddie Pough.
As I reported last month, SCDJJ is back under the federal microscope as conditions continue to deteriorate at its Broad River Road Complex (BRCC) – a dilapidated, understaffed facility which appears to have devolved into a dystopian Thunderdome in recent years.
Despite allegations of mismanagement and misappropriation of scarce agency resources, McMaster has doubled down on his support of Pough. In fact, he is said to have verbally accosted Shealy and another senator back in June after a particularly combative meeting in the governor’s office.
Shealy does not appear to be taking this broadside lying down, news which will surprise absolutely no one who has stepped into the ring against the businesswoman from Red Bank, S.C.
“I have supported the governor in many of his policy ideas but when it comes to the real people of South Carolina who need our help the most his ideas are failing them,” Shealy told me. “We are putting the wrong people in positions to protect our children, families and seniors – and it has become a fight every time we look for the right leadership in these positions.”
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Shealy acknowledged a campaign against an incumbent governor would not be easy.
“I cannot self-finance so I will have to raise lots of money and I know running against an incumbent is tough,” she told me. “But I’m tough, too.”
“It’s going to be especially hard when the incumbent is a friend of the president,” she said. “But I think it is better to be friends with the people of my state – and I know it is better to care about the future of our state.”
In addition to her legislative service, Shealy is a widely regarded community activist. Her charity – Katrina’s Kids – provides assistance to foster children as well as children placed in group homes.
Will Shealy run? And if she does run … does she have a chance?
As she readily acknowledges, the odds are stacked against anyone challenging an incumbent – especially given McMaster’s impressive bounce back from what seemed to be politically terminal collapse last winter. Even Upstate businessman John Warren – who could potentially plow millions of dollars into a prospective challenge – would face an uphill battle in unseating McMaster.
Still, Shealy is well-known at the S.C. State House as a street fighter – and anyone underestimating her tenaciousness (or her appetite for a challenge) does so at their own peril.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that “full wool” vintage Philadelphia Phillies’ lid pictured above).
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