S.C. Legislative Shake-Up Produces Different Names, Same Games

Former SC Governor Nikki Haley being sworn-in as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

Staff Reports – The game of musical chairs set in motion when former Gov. Nikki Haley became U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations created a trickle down effect that will shape South Carolina politics for the next decade. We asked several local state legislators how shifts in the hierarchy in state government will impact Black citizens.

Haley’s departure for the United Nations elevated Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster to the governor’s seat. Local black legislators say that was business as usual. And what transpired after that and into the future will continue that business as usual, they said.

In South Carolina, politics those in power have one agenda that is to stay in power. So Florence Sen. Hugh Leatherman, the legislature’s Senate Pro Tempore, did what most expected – he disregarded the state’s Constitution which mandated the Senate Pro Tempore ascend to the Lt. Governor’s seat according to the rules of succession.

Leatherman manipulated the rules and his colleagues to hold onto his considerable power. Ascending to Lt. Governor meant Leatherman would have to give up his senate seat. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Leatherman also sits on the state’s Budget and Control Board.

As President Pro Tempore, Leatherman would have been next in line to become Lt. Governor. He stated that he would refuse the position. When Haley was sworn in as U.N. ambassador and McMaster became governor, Leatherman resigned from his leadership position in the Senate to avoid ascending to the Office of Lieutenant Governor. He was temporarily succeeded as President Pro Tempore by Anderson Sen. Kevin L. Bryan, who became the Lieutenant Governor. The position of President Pro Tempore became vacant again and Leatherman was re-elected as President Pro Tempore on a 28-16 vote that included all 18 Democratic senators voting for Leatherman. 

Despite the whole affair being a classic example of politicians conducting business as usual, local black legislators say the deal actually works in favor of blacks in the state.

“It’s not surprising,” said Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson. “The Lt. Gov.’s position is the least powerful in state government. Currently, as Senate President Pro Tempore and Chairman of Senate Finance, Leatherman is the most powerful lawmaker in the State House. Considering the alternatives, strategically Leatherman is the better choice for Democrats. There’s really not a shift. It’s the same as always, Republican dominated. Nothing has changed. We have to be strategic, focused and stop getting sidetracked on issues that aren’t material to our community,” he said.

On McMaster as governor Kimpson said, “I’d love for the Governor not to be a member of an all-white country club, but I’m not going to spend my time on that. I will spend my time fighting for increasing funding to educate our school children, especially in the corridor of shame; increasing business opportunities for people who have never had a chance to bid on a downtown contract; creating affordable housing; and raising the quality of life for the working class.”

Hollywood Rep. Robert Brown similarly thinks McMaster and Leatherman are better choices for leadership when it comes to the progress and well-being of black citizens. Both are seasoned legislators who understand the importance of working across the aisles towards bipartisan productivity. Brown tempered approval noting, “but you have to remember, they’re both conservative Republicans.”

North Charleston Rep. David Mack, III also says the change in leadership won’t make much difference in what shakes out for blacks in the state. And he avoided characterizations that identify Democrats as good or Republicans as bad, but the party philosophy of the two major political parties leave little uncertainty about which supports quality education, healthcare livable wages and equal justice for all citizens, he said. He called the McMaster administration one blacks may find easier with which to work, but not one to get excited about.

S.C. Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison issued this statement: “I look forward to working with Governor McMaster and Lieutenant Governor Bryant to improve the lives of all South Carolinians.  If they put ideology and partisanship aside, Democrats will be eager to work with them to move our state forward, but if they continue to prioritize the lives of a privileged few over the needs of the many in our state, we will resist and fight them every step of the way.”

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