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EXCLUSIVE: Former Lt. Gov. McGill running for governor as a Republican

Then-S.C. President Pro Tempore Yancey McGill is sworn in as lieutenant governor by S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal in 2014 while his wife, Pamela, and Gov. Nikki Haley watch.
Then-S.C. President Pro Tempore Yancey McGill is sworn in as lieutenant governor by S.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Jean Toal in 2014 while his wife, Pamela, and Gov. Nikki Haley watch. tdominick@thestate.com

Former Democratic Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill told The State on Monday that he plans to run for governor in 2018 as a Republican.

McGill, the last Democrat to hold statewide office, said he switched parties last week after years of leaning toward pro-Republican stances on government spending and regulation as well as abortion.

“I have backed a lot of conservative issues over the years, and people have asked me why not consider joining the (Republican) party,” said McGill, who spent 25 years representing a heavily Democratic district in Williamsburg and Georgetown counties.

Asked why he remained a Democrat, the real estate broker and homebuilder said, “I couldn’t join the Republican party because I lived in a Democratic district. Now that I’m not in office in a Democratic district, I could join.”

His switch to the Republican party is the most significant since then-state Sen. Verne Smith of Greenville helped the GOP win a majority in the Senate in 2001, state Republican chairman Matt Moore said.

Democratic leaders in his district were not surprised McGill switched parties after years of voting with Republicans, S.C. Democratic chairman Jaime Harrison said.

“If he thinks that switching parties for a statewide run as a Republican will succeed, he needs to know that voters will see through that,” Harrison said. “They have plenty of real Republicans to vote for. And it’s not like Democrats are going to support him now.”

McGill, 63, said he never heard complaints about his voting record. His history of bipartisanship was a reason why few Republicans objected to him becoming lieutenant governor in 2014 after Glenn McConnell, a Republican, stepped down to become president at the College of Charleston.

“I was a state senator, not based on party, but based representing all the citizens of South Carolina,” McGill said.

McGill did not run for the lieutenant governor later in 2014, a race won by Republican Henry McMaster.

After assuming office last year, McMaster hired McGill as the state director of the S.C. Office on Aging — a post that paid $122,000 a year. McGill stayed in the job eight months before returning home to Kingstree to work on his small family farm where he has lost nearly 50 pounds.

“We do need some new leadership in the state,” McGill said. “If I’m governor, I would fix the pot holes and repair the roads without new taxes.”

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley cannot run again under state law after winning re-election to a second term in 2014.

The 2018 governor’s race is expected to draw many Republicans in the heavily GOP-dominated state. House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope, R-York, is the only other candidate to publicly announce plans to run for governor.

Andrew Shain: @AndyShain

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