S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has something no other candidate for governor has — a running mate.
Introducing herself to members of the Clover-Lake Wylie Republican Women’s Club at the affluent River Hills Country Club Friday, Pamela Evette shared the story of how she became McMaster’s running mate.
Her upbringing in a recent immigrant family played a role. Then, there was her support for Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy. Finally, she met McMaster, another Trump fan, and he sold her on his passion for the state.
The River Hills event is one of several that political newcomer Evette, an entrepreneur from Travelers Rest, has on her schedule as June’s GOP primary for governor approaches.
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Filing for the November general election opens in mid-March, just a few weeks away. But none of the other seven declared Republican and Democratic candidates for governor has named a running mate.
That means, at least for the moment, that McMaster has an advantage on the campaign trail — Evette, a surrogate who is traveling the state and sharing a vision for South Carolina.
Evette, 50, also offers balance to the McMaster-led GOP ticket — a younger woman, compared to the older pol; a political newcomer, compared to the 30-year candidate; and a Greenville-area businesswoman who started a company, compared to the lifelong public servant.
Aside from working for his family’s real-estate business, McMaster, 20 years older than Evette, has spent his career running or holding political office.
Evette’s payroll and benefits management company, with more than 30 full- and part-time employees serving clients across the country, had more than $1 billion in revenue last year, she said.
Active in her civic community, Evette also brings ties to the GOP’s voter-rich Upstate that could benefit McMaster, whose roots are in the Midlands.
‘Trump girl from the beginning’
On the campaign trail, Evette is selling herself, too.
The granddaughter of immigrants who came to the United States in 1910, Evette says growing up in a multi-generational home influenced her.
“We appreciated the American dream,” she said, adding her father, a conservative tool-and-die maker, molded her as a conservative problem solver and successful business owner.
“Dad used to have a unique approach to problems in our house. ‘If you have a problem, don't come to me and tell me about it unless you have a solution,’ ” she recalled him saying.
Evette says her family upbringing, support for President Donald Trump and a meeting with McMaster led her to jump into politics.
Evette — a self-described “Trump girl from the beginning” — and McMaster met at the president’s inauguration.
“When he (McMaster) talks to you about South Carolina and the people of South Carolina, you see how much passion he has for the people of this state,” she said.
Evette was received warmly Friday by the Clover-Lake Wylie Republican Women’s Club. After her comments, one yelled, “Well, I’m impressed!”
Evette’s contrast to McMaster also resonated with some, but not enough to sell the governor’s re-election to others.
“McMaster gets some points for bringing her on board, but we really need to have people in leadership positions that don’t have a history of a political career,” said Clover resident Sheila Reiland, who added she is supporting McMaster’s GOP rival Catherine Templeton and wished Evette was running for governor.
Campaign heating up
McMaster picked Evette as his running mate in November, giving him a surrogate he can deploy to spread his message.
With her business affairs now the responsibility of her husband, Evette said she has more time to campaign.
Since the holidays, Evette has met with political and business groups in Charleston, Spartanburg and Newberry County. She also attended a women’s leadership luncheon with Ivanka Trump and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, in Greenville.
Her Twitter profile shows other activity.
Evette and First Lady Peggy McMaster have appeared together at several events, including a luncheon raising money for the Julie Valentine Center, a sexual-assault and child-abuse prevention and treatment organization, and signing Valentine’s Day cards for veterans in Columbia.
The Evettes and McMasters also attended an evening ball for the American Heart Association, where the governor and first lady auctioned off dinner at the mansion for charity.
In coming weeks, Evette said she is looking forward to touring schools with the chairman of the S.C. House’s education committee, state Rep. Rita Allison, R-Greenville.
Evette says being on the campaign trail has caused her to rethink how she sees South Carolina.
“Up to that point, I was a business owner, and I was a mom,” she said, adding she now needs to look at all businesses and people in the state and assess their needs.
A sparse field
So far, Evette is alone filling the role of running mate.
None of the other Republicans running for governor – Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant of Anderson, former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill of Williamsburg, former state agency chief Templeton of Mount Pleasant, and Greenville real-estate lender John Warren – has named a running mate yet.
Neither have any of the Democrats seeking their party’s nomination: Charleston businessman Phil Noble, state Rep. James Smith of Columbia and Florence attorney Marguerite Willis.
However, Smith says he is making progress toward picking a running mate.
The Columbia attorney said he has been in talks with several potential running mates. Others also have expressed interest in running alongside him.
“We have a list of individuals we're considering for lieutenant governor, all of whom could themselves be governor and would make South Carolina proud,” Smith told The State.
Lawmakers stalled on joint ticket rules
In some ways, there’s no rush.
Candidates who don’t make it through the June 12 Democratic and Republican primaries have no need for a running mate.
However, with filing for 2018 races starting in mid-March, voters likely will have questions about who the candidates will pick as their wing men or women.
Candidates have questions, too, including about the rules that will guide how joint campaigns work. State lawmakers have yet to define those rules.
Six years ago, S.C. voters agreed to change the state Constitution so the governor and lieutenant governor could run on the same ticket, rather than separately. It took two years for lawmakers to ratify the constitutional amendment, set to take effect for the November general election.
However, they still have not passed a needed fix in state law, outlining how the joint ticket will work. That bill would set the procedures for picking running mates, rules about fundraising and campaigning on a joint ticket, and the lieutenant governor's responsibilities.
The S.C. House and, later, the state Senate passed a bill outlining those rules last year. But, then, the House added in raises for state judges, and now the bill is stuck in a committee that is trying to hammer out a compromise.
For the moment that leaves Evette alone, the only candidate running to be South Carolina’s next lieutenant governor.
At Friday’s luncheon in River Hills, Evette told the audience she is confident the Legislature will work out the fine print.
As to her role, Evette says McMaster has asked her to focus on the state challenges that she is most passionate about and can affect the most change. Business and education issues top her list, she said.
Touting the potential partnership, in the words of McMaster, she said: “What we can do together, running on the same ticket, has never happened before.”
S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s running mate
Name: Pamela Evette
Hometown: Travelers Rest
Job: President and chief executive officer, Quality Business Solutions; president, Sunkiko
Family: Married to David Evette; three children
Education: Cleveland State University, bachelor’s in business administration, accounting and finance
Political experience: None