State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, started gathering votes Thursday in a bid to become president pro tempore of the S.C. Senate.
Friday morning, he got some competition, as state Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, said he also plans to throw his name in the hat, too.
The two senators chair the Senate's most powerful committees, which write the state’s budget and laws. Leatherman chairs Finance and Martin chairs Judiciary.
They also would bring different approaches to working with Republican Gov. Nikki Haley.
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Martin is a Haley ally, often encouraging the Senate’s GOP caucus to take positions the governor shares.
Leatherman is known for sometimes bucking Haley and the Senate’s GOP majority, sometimes siding with Democrats.
The leadership shuffle started when Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell announced he would resign as lieutenant governor to begin his new job as the College of Charleston's new president. McConnell, expected to resign soon, becomes the college's president July 1.
Then-President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, stepped down from that powerful post, not wanting to be elevated to the largely ceremonial lieutenant governor vacancy as outlined in the state's Constitution. That left the state's No. 2 office soon to be vacant and the Senate leadership position vacant.
A plan is in the works to fill the lieutenant governor's vacancy.
Yancey McGill, a Democrat from Williamsburg County, has said he is considering offering himself for the post. First, the Senate would need to elect him as president pro tempore. Then, he would be elevated to fill the lieutenant governor's office after McConnell resigns.
If that happens, the race then will shift to president pro tempore.
If Leatherman wins, he would pick up yet another powerful position in state government. Besides chairing the Senate Finance Committee, Leatherman sits on the state Budget and Control Board whose other members are Haley, the state treasurer, comptroller general and the chairman of the House budget committee.
Martin said Friday his interest in becoming president pro tem came after learning that Courson was not interested in regaining the post.
“There needs to be an alternative,” Martin said. “I bring the kind of experience not only presiding over the Senate, but also the leadership that I brought as chairman of the judiciary.
“I think the members would welcome the opportunity to have a discussion about the type of pro tem they might want.”
Leatherman said his interest in being president pro tempore began when McConnell, then president pro tem, was elevated in 2012 to fill the vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office created by Ken Ard’s resignation.
Democrats are among the senators that Leatherman, a onetime Democrat, is calling for support. According to one state senator, Leatherman was building a coalition among the Senate’s 17 remaining Democrats (after McGill becomes lieutenant governor) and also had eight Republican votes.
The Senate has 46 members. While majority Republican, it has at least three factions: Democrats, Republicans and Tea Party Republicans, members of the so-called William Wallace Caucus. Two of the three factions generally must agree to get anything done.
“I always do work across the aisle,” Leatherman said. “I'm one of those people who likes to get things done.”
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said he and Leatherman spoke Thursday night but Lourie would not say what they discussed.
“I would say that Chairman Leatherman is the odds-on favorite to become the next Senate president pro tem,” Lourie added.