COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s House Democrats elected a new leader Tuesday on the opening day of the 2013 legislative session.
The Democratic caucus elected Rep. Todd Rutherford of Columbia in a 33-12 vote during a lunch meeting behind closed doors. Rutherford replaces Rep. Harry Ott as House minority leader, as Democrats face the largest House GOP majority since Reconstruction.
Republicans hold 77 of 123 House seats, with a special election scheduled for March in a heavily Republican Greenville County district.
Rutherford, in his eighth term, was elected over Rep. Ted Vick of Chesterfield. Vick, 40, won a fourth term to his state House seat after dropping out last year from his bid for the new 7th Congressional District following an arrest in downtown Columbia.
Rutherford, 42, said he wants voters to know Democrats’ stance on issues.
“I thought I could do a better job than is currently being done in making that happen,” he said. “I come from an era of social media and the Internet, and I want to make sure this caucus moves forward and tells people outside of the chamber what our position is.”
Democrats’ chief fight this year will be to expand Medicaid coverage to more poor people under the federal health care law. House Republicans’ priority list includes making sure that doesn’t happen.
Ott, D-St. Matthews, decided not to seek re-election after eight years in the post, saying he couldn’t commit to another two years. He declined to say what office he might seek in 2014.
Earlier Tuesday, Senate Republicans re-elected Harvey Peeler of Gaffney as Senate majority leader for the next four years. The Senate GOP voted unanimously for Peeler in a meeting open to the public.
Peeler, majority leader since 2005, appointed Sens. Danny Verdin of Laurens and Shane Massey of Edgefield as Senate majority whips.
Senate Republicans released a priority list Tuesday that includes repairing roads and bridges and capping what state government spends. Three issues on the list that also top the agendas of both House Republicans and Democrats are cyber security, and reforming ethics and election laws.
Also on Tuesday, House Democrats elected Rep. Walt McLeod of Little Mountain as assistant minority leader. Rep. James Smith, who was minority leader before Ott, was elected deputy leader.
House Republicans and Senate Democrats elected their leaders in organizational sessions after the November elections.
The House GOP limits its majority leaders to two terms. Rep. Bruce Bannister was elected last month to replace Rep. Kenny Bingham in the majority post. Senate Democrats elected Nikki Setzler of West Columbia as Senate minority leader. Setzler takes the title from John Land, who did not seek re-election after 38 years in the Legislature, including 20 as the chamber’s leading Democrat.
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