Kevin Bryant — a founding member of the state Senate’s libertarian “William Wallace Caucus,” known for his unflinching support of pro-life legislation, school choice, traditional marriage and limited government — soon will be only a heartbeat away from becoming S.C. governor.
S.C. senators are expected to elevate the 49-year-old Anderson Republican Wednesday to be South Carolina’s next lieutenant governor.
Bryant is the only senator to publicly lobby for the job, and his colleagues say he has the votes to be elected.
Senate Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, paved the way for Bryant’s election Tuesday, resigning his post to avoid becoming lieutenant governor. That post has little power, aside from being first in line to succeed the governor, if necessary. It pays $46,545 a year.
As soon as Bryant — temporarily, the Senate president pro tempore — becomes lieutenant governor, that will create a vacancy for Senate leader, a post that Leatherman is expected to seek again.
The William Wallace Caucus
Since 2005, Bryant — a deeply religious Anderson pharmacist and small-business owner — has been one of the most conservative members in the GOP-majority Senate.
Bryant helped found the Senate’s William Wallace Caucus, a group of back-bench Republicans whose proposals and obstructionist tactics have sometimes frustrated both Democrats and mainstream Republicans.
Bryant fought the Affordable Care Act and Common Core, pushed back against proposed tax increases or borrowing plans, and blasted state agencies and public colleges for what he deemed to be wasteful spending.
“He’s not a pragmatic politician,” said state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, another member of the William Wallace Caucus, named for the 13th century Scot — of “Braveheart” fame — who fought for Scottish independence but was executed by the English. “He’s not an art-of-the-possible type guy. He has an idea of right and wrong, and he’s not going to waver.”
The proposals that Bryant has authored or backed over the past few years include:
▪ A bathroom bill last year that would have prevented transgender men or women from using the bathrooms of their choice. The proposal failed after Republican S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley objected, calling it unnecessary. State economic-development officials also opposed the proposal, noting the negative impact a similar N.C. bill had on jobs in that state.
▪ Proposals last year to bar state agencies from accepting —or helping others to resettle —refugees in the state until new security measures are enacted, and require the tracking of refugees entering South Carolina. Both failed.
▪ A failed push in 2014 to require the state to directly acknowledge a religious creator while making the Columbian mammoth the official state fossil
▪ An unsuccessful 2012 bill to allow anyone to carry a gun, concealed or not, anywhere but in private homes and businesses that specifically ban them
▪ An unsuccessful 2012 bill to require the jobless to pass a drug test before receiving unemployment benefits.
Bryant says one of his proudest accomplishments was pushing through a 2006 bill that extended the death penalty to include child rapists.
Bryant said this week he believes God led him to the state Senate and, now, to become lieutenant governor.
“I will have a platform to preach conservatism across the state,” Bryant said.
‘A man of his word’
Senators on both sides of the aisle admit to differences – large and small – with Bryant’s politics. But Bryant has earned universal praise for his principled, straight-forward approach to policy making.
Lawmakers say Bryant is upfront and personable. He tells colleagues where he stands on their proposals and what he plans to do, an approach he says helps to iron out potential problems in legislation.
“There’s no surprises with Kevin Bryant,” said state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland.
That approach, plus a reverence for Senate rules, qualify Bryant to be the chamber’s presiding officer, a role of the lieutenant governor, legislators say. Last week, Bryant practiced chairing the state Senate. In the vacant Senate chamber, he pretended to call on senators and move through business with the Senate clerk.
“I’ve always found him to be a man of his word, thoughtful, conscientious,” said state Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg. “We don’t always agree on the policies that are proposed, but he’s always been a gentlemen.”
Former state Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, refers to Bryant as “my brother from a right-wing mother.” Lourie said he admired Bryant’s 2015 vote to remove the Confederate flag from the State House dome after the Emanuel 9 masaacre.
“He got a lot of grief,” Lourie said. “People were protesting in front of his drug store, and he didn’t waver a bit.”
But Bryant, a former Anderson County GOP chairman, seldom strays from the conservatism that makes him popular among Upstate voters.
Davis says he will miss Bryant’s help in fighting a proposal to increase the state’s gas tax to pay to repair the South Carolina’s crumbling roads. As Davis has filibustered similar proposals in years’ past, Bryant would pepper him with sympathetic questions to pass the time.
“You can only speak for so long before you start to go crazy,” Davis said. “He was always somebody who would stand up, and go back and forth with me.”
The Anderson Republican likely to be S.C.’s next lieutenant governor
Occupation: Pharmacist and president of Bryant Pharmacy and Supply
Education: Bachelor’s of science degree, University of Georgia
Personal: Married, Ann; three children
Political: Served in state Senate since 2005; former chairman, Anderson County GOP, 1997-2001; delegate, Republican National Convention, 2000