By John Celock
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley for the United Nations means that South Carolina will now likely have an incumbent governor in the 2018 gubernatorial race.
Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) is slated to succeed Haley in the governor’s mansion when Haley steps down from the governorship to take the U.N. ambassador’s post. Haley has said that she will not leave the governorship until after the Senate acts on her nomination, which is expected in January.
Trump’s decision will elevate an early Trump supporter to the South Carolina governor’s mansion and give McMaster a job he first sought in 2010, when he finished third in the Republican primary won by Haley.
McMaster’s succession to the governorship will allow him to seek the office as an incumbent in 2018. He already been planning a bid for the office that year. Earlier this month it was reported that U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R) was considering a bid for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, on a ticket with U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) for lieutenant governor. Scott is one of the biggest names in South Carolina politics. It is unknown if McMaster would seek to face off against Scott.
Former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, a former Democrat, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope and former Haley cabinet member Catherine Templeton have announced bids for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Templeton headed the state’s Health and Environmental Control Department and Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department under Haley.
Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, state Rep. James Smith and former state Rep. Bakari Sellers have been mentioned as potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Sellers lost the 2014 lieutenant governor’s race to McMaster.
McMaster has been a fixture in Palmetto State politics since 1981, when President Ronald Reagan appointed him as the state’s U.S. attorney, following the recommendation of former U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond (R). McMaster, a former Thurmond aide, would serve four years as South Carolina’s top federal prosecutor.
In 1986, McMaster was the unsuccessful Republican nominee against then U.S. Sen. Ernest Hollings (D). Four years later, McMaster was the unsuccessful GOP nominee for lieutenant governor against then Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore (D).
McMaster then served on the South Carolina Higher Education Commission and was the state’s Republican Party chairman in the 1990s, when the GOP took control of the state Legislature. He was elected to the first of two terms as state attorney general in 2002. As attorney general, McMaster focused largely on domestic violence and child internet predators. He also led a group of state attorneys general in a constitutional challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
Haley tapped McMaster to co-chair a bipartisan state ethics reform commission and to serve on the board of the South Carolina Ports Authority. McMaster’s service on the ports board came amid debates over the dredging of the Port of Charleston to accommodate larger cargo ships.
McMaster was elected lieutenant governor in 2014, defeating Sellers 59 percent to 41 percent. McMaster’s lieutenant governor campaign was largely seen as a prelude to a 2018 gubernatorial run, when Haley is scheduled to be term limited. The 2014 lieutenant governor’s race was the last when the office would be elected on its own, starting in 2018, the job will be elected on a ticket with candidates for governor.
As lieutenant governor, McMaster heads an office tasked largely with overseeing the state’s programs involving senior citizens. McMaster also presides over the state Senate in the role. He is the fourth lieutenant governor to serve under Haley, an office that had become something of a revolving door during her first term. McMaster will be able to pick his successor as lieutenant governor, the first time in state history a governor will have that power. Previously, the Senate president pro tempore succeeded to the lieutenant governorship.
McMaster has suggested that he is also short listed for a post in the Trump Administration. If he were to accept a job from Trump before naming his own lieutenant governor, Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman (R) would become the state’s acting governor, while retaining his Senate seat and leadership post for the remainder of Haley’s term.
McMaster, who will be South Carolina’s 117th governor, is slated to be the first lieutenant governor to succeed to the governorship midterm since Democrat Ronald McNair in 1965. McNair succeeded former Gov. Donald Russell (D), who resigned in order to be appointed to a U.S. Senate seat by McNair. McNair would win a full term as governor in 1966. Russell was defeated for the Senate seat that year.
Scott, a former congressman, was appointed to his Senate seat by Haley in 2013. He was then elected to the remaining two years of former Sen. Jim DeMint’s term in 2014 and won a full six year term this year. Scott is the first African-American senator elected in the South since former Sen. Blanche K. Bruce (R-Miss.) left office in 1881.
If Scott and McMaster face off it would not be the first time a sitting senator challenged a sitting governor in a gubernatorial primary. In 2010, then U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson unsuccessfully challenged then Texas Gov. Rick Perry for the GOP gubernatorial nomination when Perry sought a third term.
Not all governors though face off against a sitting senator for their office. In 2005, then New Jersey Gov. Dick Codey (D), who had succeeded to the governorship the previous year, declined to seek a full term in office after then U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine announced plans to seek the Democratic nomination for governor. Corzine was elected to the governorship that year.