The S.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that whoever is president pro tempore of the state Senate will become lieutenant governor if the governor’s post is vacated by current Gov. Nikki Haley and current Lt. Governor Henry McMaster becomes governor.
The ruling resolves the issue of what happens once McMaster becomes governor, assuming the U.S. Senate approves Haley as the new United Nations ambassador.
McMaster said Wednesday afternoon, "I agree with the court's decision. It's the right decision to make. You have to follow the law."
Some had believed that McMaster might be able to appoint his own lieutenant governor – a scenario that would have allowed current Senate President Pro Tem Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, to stay in his position and not become lieutenant governor.
The state’s constitution calls for the Senate president pro tem to become lieutenant governor once the lieutenant governor’s post is vacated. Last year, the constitution was amended by voters in a change that would allow the governor to choose the lieutenant governor.
But in its ruling Wednesday, the Supreme Court made clear that the change in succession approved by voters doesn’t take place until 2018, when, by law, the governor and lieutenant governor will for the first time run together on a party ticket.
Leatherman has said he doesn’t want to be lieutenant governor. Now, he is expected to step down from the powerful pro tem position, let someone else be elected who will ascend to the lieutenant governor’s job – and hope lawmakers then are willing to re-elect him pro tem.
Late Wednesday, a spokesman said Leatherman had no comment at this time.
On Wednesday, Haley testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. If Haley is approved for the U.N. post and resigns, McMaster’s salary will jump from $46,545 to $106,078 and he will move to the Governor’s Mansion in downtown Columbia.
The lieutenant governor’s post not only has a relatively low salary, it has few perks.
Other state senators are said to be jockeying to become Senate president pro tem if Leatherman steps down. If that happens, the senator who became president pro tem would ascend to the lieutenant governor’s position once McMaster vacated that post.
Already, Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, has expressed interest in the job.
Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who had filed the action in the Supreme Court that resulted in Wednesday’s interpretation of the law, said he was pleased with the court’s decision. The court “is to be commended for acting both swiftly and correctly in this matter before the political dominoes start to fall,” Davis said.