By Jim Ellis
Jan. 20, 2017 — Gov. Nikki Haley’s (R) confirmation hearing to become US Ambassador to the United Nations and an expected quick Senate approval vote will ignite a rather unique South Carolina constitutional and political situation. Tangentially, the evolving lieutenant governor office quandary also has an effect upon the upcoming special congressional election in the state’s 5th District, to occur once incumbent Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-Lancaster/Rock Hill) is confirmed as Office of Management & Budget director.
When Gov. Haley resigns to accept the UN position, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster (R) will immediately ascend to the governorship. Under the state’s constitution, at least until right after the 2018 election, the Senate President Pro Tempore, a powerful legislative leader, automatically becomes lieutenant governor. In this situation, however, the sitting President Pro Tem does not want to be lieutenant governor, preferring to keep his Senate post.
Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence), who is 85 years old and is a 36-year veteran state senator, has little interest in relinquishing his more powerful leadership position in exchange for a largely ceremonial statewide office. His problem, however, is that the state Supreme Court just ruled that he has no choice. According to the Court’s directive, Leatherman, or whoever sits in the Senate Pro Tem’s office, must fill an open lieutenant governor’s office.