Two of the most powerful Republicans in the South Carolina legislature have signaled a favored candidate for the next president of the University of South Carolina.
S.C. Senate President Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, wants Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, to be the next president of the state’s flagship university, he said in a tweet and confirmed in an interview.
“I think @vincentsheheen would be an excellent choice for the next President of the @UofSC. He has a pedigree of public service with an emphasis on Higher Ed. He is without a doubt the person for the job. #gaffnese”
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In response to that tweet, S.C. House Majority leader Gary Simrill tweeted: “One fine Clemson grad agreeing the other fine Clemson grad should lead USC. I mean the U of SC.”
Sheheen, who could not be reached for comment Monday morning, received his bachelor’s degree from Clemson in 1993 and his law degree from USC in 1996, according to this legislative bio page.
Peeler said he first thought about publicly supporting Sheheen after a Post and Courier article mentioned Sheheen as a possible candidate.
“I’ve been working with Sen. Sheheen for two years now on education...I’ve been really impressed with his knowledge,” Peeler said in an interview. “It’s not a partisan issue. It’s not a sports team rivalry issue, it’s about what’s best for the state of South Carolina.”
Peeler said he had spoken with Sheheen (both serve on the Senate education committee) but not with Simrill, regarding Sheheen’s possible candidacy.
“He didn’t say ‘no,’” Peeler said of his conversation with Sheheen.
Some on social media voiced concerns that if Sheheen becomes the president of USC, it would remove a powerful Democrat from the Senate.
“I’m wondering if this is your way to remove a Dem from the mix?” @WatchYourRepsSC, a left-leaning watchdog, tweeted in response to Simrill.
Sheheen, who ran for governor against Nikki Haley in 2010 and 2014, is currently pushing for a bill that would boost recurring higher education funding using online sales tax revenue and increases in the state budget. That bill, lauded by current USC president Harris Pastides, would in turn limit how much colleges raise tuition.
Asked for comment, USC said the presidential search will continue as planned despite the the lawmakers’ tweets.
“We got a well-defined process that’s determined in the bylaws and when we get four candidates to recommend to the board (of trustees), they will become public,” said Hugh Mobley, a USC board of trustee member and chair of the presidential search committee.
Sheheen’s is not the first high-profile name to enter the presidential search. Last week, the New York Times reported that former S.C. Congressman and current acting Chief of Staff to President Donald Trump Mick Mulvaney was considering the position. The university has not commented on either.
“We will not discuss applicants or rumored candidates,” USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. “Nor will we identify applicants until we have four finalists.”