By John Celock
With the U.S. Senate confirming Nikki Haley as the new ambassador to the United Nations, Henry McMaster has fulfilled his political ambition becoming the 117th governor of South Carolina.
McMaster (R) was sworn in Tuesday evening, shortly after Haley (R) was confirmed by the Senate 94-6 to the United Nations post. McMaster culminated a four-decade political rise, one that saw him defeated in several elections, to take Haley’s place in the South Carolina governor’s mansion. McMaster used brief remarks – a video of which was posted on the website of The State – to praise Haley and to talk about the people of South Carolina.
“Through the centuries our people have striven, endured adversity, overcome challenges, created opportunities, built and prospered,” McMaster said. “Presenting to the world a people remarkable in their strength, talent and love for their fellow man.”
Calling South Carolina “unique,” McMaster said that the state and its people are well positioned to move forward.
“God has let his light shine on us brightly and we are thankful,” he said.
McMaster was effusive in his praise for Haley, who has served as governor for the last six years. He said that South Carolinians appreciated her work and he used her signature line of “it’s a great day in South Carolina” to describe her tenure as the state’s chief executive.
“Thank you Governor Haley, soon to be Ambassador Haley, for your determined efforts on behalf of our people,” McMaster said. “We swell with pride as a daughter of our great state takes her place in the nation’s stage. You have done a splendid job and we will never forget you. We look forward to seeing you back here often.”
McMaster began his career in the 1970s as an aide to former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.), but is known primarily for his work in a series of prosecutorial posts. He was appointed the state’s U.S. attorney in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan, a post he held until 1985. He was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in 1986 and lieutenant governor in 1990. In 1993, he was elected chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, a post he held until 2002. During his time at the helm of the GOP, McMaster saw the Republican rise to become the state’s dominant party.
McMaster was elected state attorney general in 2002, a post he held for eight years. In 2010 he was defeated by Haley in the Republican gubernatorial primary, but was later appointed by her to the board of the South Carolina Ports Authority. McMaster was elected lieutenant governor in 2014.
McMaster was succeeded in the lieutenant governorship by state Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin Bryant (R-Anderson). Bryant came to the job in a slightly confusing route, as Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), the president pro tempore, didn’t want to give up his powerful post at the head of the Senate and as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, for the less powerful lieutenant governor’s post. Leatherman stepped down briefly as president pro tempore, where he was replaced by Bryant, who volunteered to take on the lieutenant governor’s role.
McMaster was the last lieutenant governor to be independently elected, with the job to be elected as a running mate of the governor starting in 2018. The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled last week that the law had not taken effect, thus preventing McMaster from naming the new lieutenant governor. This required the Senate president pro tempore to succeed to the lieutenant governor’s office. The lieutenant governor of South Carolina serves as the Senate’s presiding officer and oversees the state office on aging.
McMaster’s elevation to the governorship also transforms the 2018 gubernatorial race, placing an incumbent in a race which was expected to be incumbent free with Haley being term limited.
McMaster did not address the 2018 election in his remarks, rather focusing on his own succession to the governorship.
“As I assume these new responsibilities I am humbled, honored and deeply appreciative in being granted one of the rarest opportunities to serve the people of my state,” he said.