Politics & Government

Senate leader Leatherman resigns to avoid becoming lieutenant governor

S.C. Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman resigned Tuesday in order to avoid becoming the state’s lieutenant governor.

The state’s most powerful politician, Leatherman — who chairs the Senate’s powerful budget-writing Finance Committee — said in November he was not interested in becoming lieutenant governor, an essentially powerless position.

The question of who would be South Carolina’s lieutenant governor became urgent Tuesday when Gov. Nikki Haley was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley then resigned, elevating Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, R-Richland, to the post of governor. That move vacated the lieutenant governor’s post.

Last week, however, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled the Senate president pro tempore would replace McMaster as lieutenant governor.

“The state Supreme Court clarified any questions on the line of succession and as I’ve stated before, I have no desire to seek statewide office and I will remain in the Senate," Leatherman said in a statement Tuesday evening.

Senators are expected Wednesday to elect state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, to ascend to the lieutenant governor’s office.

Once Bryant becomes the state’s second-in-command, Leatherman likely will regain the post of Senate leader in a vote of the full Senate.

However, state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, plans to challenge Leatherman, R-Florence, for the top Senate post.

Peeler, a former Senate majority leader, said he was pushed to run by senators upset by Leatherman's refusal to ascend to lieutenant governor, part of the Senate president's job description.

Asked if he thinks he has the votes, Peeler replied: "We'll see. I'm working."

Republicans hold the majority of seats in the 46-member Senate. However, those GOP senators split into competing factions. The competing GOP factions allow Senate Democrats to ally with one Republican group to elect the Senate leader, most recently Leatherman.

However, opposition to Leatherman has been been increasing. In December, nine senators — all Republicans — voted against re-electing him Senate leader.

Leatherman first was elected Senate president pro tempore in 2014 after then-Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, resigned to become the president of the College of Charleston.

At the time, then-President Pro Tempore John Courson, R-Richland, resigned to avoid becoming lieutenant governor.

After Courson stepped down, senators elected then-Sen. Yancey McGill as Senate president pro tempore and he ascended to become lieutenant governor.

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

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