Politics & Government

SC attorney general also wants court to clarify who will become lieutenant governor

Attorney General Alan Wilson has joined a Lowcountry state senator in urging the S.C. Supreme Court to clarify how Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster will be replaced as the state’s second in command.

State Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, filed a petition last month with the state’s highest court seeking a ruling S.C.’s governor cannot appoint a lieutenant governor until after the 2018 election.

A vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office looms, with Gov. Nikki Haley poised to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations as early as next month. McMaster then would succeed Haley as governor, leaving the lieutenant governor’s job open.

In 2014, S.C. voters approved a referendum allowing the state’s governor to appoint the lieutenant governor, starting in 2018. However, the language lawmakers subsequently approved to ratify that referendum omitted the 2018 starting date, Davis has said.

That flaw means the pre-2014 law – saying the president pro tempore of the Senate becomes lieutenant governor when there is a vacancy – remains in effect, Davis says.

President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, the Florence Republican who chairs the Senate’s budget-writing Finance Committee and has many appointment powers as Senate leader, has said he is not interested in becoming lieutenant governor, a virtually powerless position.

Leatherman could resign as president pro tempore and another senator could take that post, becoming lieutenant governor.

Leatherman asked the justices Thursday not to decide anything until and if McMaster actually is sworn in as governor.

Davis’ request is speculation that relies on a series of assumptions, including that Haley is confirmed and then resigns, the Senate leader said.

Unless that happens, “the court would be wading into a hypothetical arena devoid of established facts,” reads the response from Leatherman and Senate Judiciary chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry.

But Davis maintains the Supreme Court must clarify that the governor cannot pick the lieutenant governor until after the 2018 general election.

“Look, this isn’t a murder mystery; everyone knows what happened,” Davis said. “The people’s will was ignored and the Legislature must accept responsibility for the mistake.”

The Associated Press contributed. Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope