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State House Power Moves

January 25, 2017 - Posted in This Week in South Carolina by Gavin Jackson

A day after Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster replaced outgoing Gov. Nikki Haley, Senators elected Sen. Kevin Bryant as McMaster's successor. Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, successfully retained his position shortly after Bryant was elected by the Senate on Wednesday.

Senate Democrats and 10 Republicans, including Leatherman, helped keep him in the powerful position by a vote of 28-16 over the only other candidate, Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney.

The Republicans who voted against Leatherman said he failed to fulfill the key duty of the position--filling the Lieutenant Governor vacancy. Senate Republican Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, offered a sharp rebuke of Leatherman during his nomination speech for Peeler.

"If you don't want to do the one job the Constitution gives you, though there's a way out--you can resign," Massey said. "And that's the argument we've heard today. That we're not really violating the Constitution by this shameless and obvious game of musical chairs."

Leatherman made it clear in December and again late Tuesday when he essentially temporarily resigned, stating that he had no desire to become Lieutenant Governor for the remaining two years of the office's term.

“The State Supreme Court clarified any questions on the line of succession, and as I’ve stated before, I have no desire to seek statewide office, and I will remain in the Senate," Leatherman said late Tuesday.

The pro tempore position, which Leatherman acquired through a similar power play in 2014,  adds to his power as chairman of the Senate's budget-writing committee. As pro tempore, he can steer the Senate calendar and, importantly, make nominations to conference committees, which hash out details on bills when there are differences between the House and Senate versions. 

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