Exit Gov. Nikki Haley. Enter Gov. Henry McMaster.
South Carolina’s lieutenant governor became its governor Tuesday, within an hour of Haley being confirmed as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and resigning from her job as the state’s chief executive.
After the U.S. Senate voted 96-4 to confirm Haley’s appointment by President Donald Trump, McMaster and Haley appeared at the State House with S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Don Beatty in a ceremonial transfer of power.
McMaster, 69, thanked Haley for her contribution to the state and said he is “humbled, honored and deeply appreciative of being granted one of the rarest opportunities to serve the people of my state, my home and that of my forefathers.
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“Great prosperity, success and happiness will be ours, and we will serve as a beacon of inspiration for others,” McMaster added, not taking questions from reporters.
A Columbia Republican elected lieutenant governor in 2014, McMaster took the oath of office Tuesday despite not being required to do so. Under the state Constitution, the lieutenant governor automatically becomes governor when a vacancy occurs in the state’s highest office.
McMaster said little Tuesday about his plans as governor.
The leaders of state agencies that form the governor’s Cabinet — all appointed by fellow Republican Haley — are staying on board in the new administration, McMaster’s office confirmed Tuesday. That includes Commerce Department Secretary Bobby Hitt, credited, with Haley, with attracting thousands of new jobs to the state.
Also, McMaster and wife Peggy plan to move into the Governor’s Mansion as soon as possible. The pair live in a home on Senate Street, near the University of South Carolina campus.
S.C. GOP Chairman Matt Moore congratulated Haley and McMaster.
Haley “has led our state through so many difficult days with grace and humility,” Moore said, crediting Haley with improving the state’s economy. “We will miss Gov. Haley’s strong, principled leadership, but we’ll also miss her compassion, kindness and love for our state.
“Gov. McMaster is a lifelong Republican, former state GOP chairman and true public servant who loves South Carolina with all of his heart. I know he will continue our state’s legacy of great Republican governors,” Moore said.
McMaster’s tenure in the governor’s office could prove historic.
The former two-term state attorney general will finish the final two years of Haley’s term and is expected to run for the office in 2018. If McMaster wins two consecutive terms, he could serve almost 10 years, making him the state’s longest serving governor.
Haley off to new job
Haley’s new job will move her to New York City where she will get a pay raise to $187,000 a year, up from her $106,078-a-year salary as governor. She also will get an apartment in Manhattan at the swanky Waldorf Astoria hotel, which houses the official residence of the U.S. ambassador.
Her six years as governor were marked by a sometimes combative relationship with members of the GOP-controlled Legislature, giving legislators letter grades and calling them out publicly for not voting for her agenda.
But Haley also leaves the governor’s office with a national reputation, credited for her leadership in removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds after the racially motivated slaying of nine African-American Charleston churchgoers, and leading the state’s recovery from a flood and hurricane.
Haley’s tenure in S.C. politics may not be over, observers say.
Haley could come back to South Carolina to run for the U.S. Senate, Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said.
Before “handing the reins” to McMaster, she said she would be away for a while, adding, “I will always have one eye on South Carolina.”