Politics & Government

The Buzz: Maneuvering in SC Senate could cost Gov. Haley

South Carolina’s Republican-controlled Senate is bruising blue as Republicans implode.

Picture this: Republican Gov. Nikki Haley’s No. 2 as lieutenant governor soon could be a Democrat and the GOP-majority Senate could elect a former Democrat – and sometimes Haley critic – as president pro tempore.

That political reality is looking more likely as two top Republican senators – with varying allegiances to Haley – compete to be Senate president pro tem.

And presiding over the Senate could be Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, if he agrees to become lieutenant governor. McGill would fill the vacancy to be created by the exit of Charleston Republican Glenn McConnell, another sometimes-Haley critic who will resign to become president of the College of Charleston next month.

Haley’s office did not respond to a request to weigh in on the race for president pro tem brewing between the Senate Finance chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, and Senate Judiciary chairman, Larry Martin, R-Pickens.

The Leatherman-Martin race is on the horizon because state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, decided not to try to regain the post of president pro tem, which he only recently gave up to avoid becoming lieutenant governor.

Courson says the Senate needs a fresh start. The political maneuvering by McConnell and Charleston lawmakers in an attempt to force passage of a bill making the College of Charleston a research university cast a “cloud over the Senate,” he said.

“When the 121st General Assembly begins in January, we need to right the ship. The ship is not right.”

With the position of president pro tem up for grabs, Haley has something important at stake – the hand that will guide the Senate.

The Senate already is an unwieldy beast for Republicans, despite the party’s majority status in that body.

Single senators can block bills. Republicans also have their own almost daily in-fighting, as the GOP’s ultra-conservative William Wallace Caucus bucks the governor and Republican leadership.

While Haley isn’t saying, The Buzz bets she would prefer Martin over Leatherman, who also sits on the powerful state Budget and Control Board with Haley. (Didn’t government reorganization abolish that board? Yes, and no; Leatherman will remain on the new board that is the budget board’s partial successor.)

It would help the governor to have an ally, like Martin, setting the Senate’s agenda. Leatherman, on the other hand, votes without regard for what Haley wants. As one Senate aide said: Whenever Haley and Leatherman have tried to work together, “It’s ended badly.”

For example, Leatherman, once a Democrat, was one of two Senate Republicans who voted with Democrats against a Haley-backed bill that would have made way for the governor to appoint the state’s superintendent of education.

Most Democrats voted against the measure, in part, because it would take away from their party the chance to win a statewide office, the last one that a Democrat held. Martin, however, tried to save the superintendent of education bill for Haley. (He failed.)

What’s in the power shift for Democrats? A temporary statewide office, though the relatively powerless of lieutenant governor, and more clout in the 46-member Senate.

In the race for president pro tempore, Democrats have a friend in Leatherman. And rumor has it, Leatherman might get elected.

“He’s got all the Democrats (17) and at least eight votes on the Republican side,” one senator said last week. “If they’ve got that kind of coalition, it’s a done deal.”

OK. Who will win York County?

State House Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, made news recently by announcing his interest in running for governor in 2018.

But Pope may have company from his neck of the woods.

U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, told The Buzz that he, too, is considering running to be South Carolina’s chief executive, confirming a rumor we’ve heard for a while.

The Indian Land Republican, who is married with triplets, has made a name for himself in Washington, following a swift ascendency from the S.C. Legislature to Congress, including a decisive win over U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-York, in 2010.

“While a lot can happen between now and 2018, the short answer is, ‘Yes,’ ” Mulvaney said last week, when asked if he was considering the 2018 race for governor.

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