COLUMBIA — President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Gov. Nikki Haley will elevate Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, upon her confirmation, to the state's top political position, but the question many are asking is: what then?
If Haley is confirmed and the succession takes place as it always has, Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, would then become lieutenant governor, and the Senate would elect someone to take his place. Leatherman, a Florence Republican, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Dave Wilson, a Republican strategist with McAlister Communications, said the power shift will shape the Senate in the near term and have ramifications in the 2018 gubernatorial race as well.
“South Carolina politics are going to be in flux for the next few weeks until the president-elect nomination of Governor Nikki Haley is confirmed," Wilson said. "We are in a time period right now that has very little precedent, with the exception of a handful of times in the last century. It’s going to be interesting to see how leadership in the Senate is going to look.”
Many political onlookers believe Leatherman would not want to become lieutenant governor and instead temporarily would step down from his position as president pro tempore — as was done by Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, in 2014.
However, the law is unclear about how the succession would work.
According to the state constitution as amended in May 2014, if the lieutenant governor leaves office — by impeachment, death, resignation, disqualification, disability, or removal from the state — the governor is to appoint a second in command to fulfill the rest of the term, with advice and consent from the state Senate. There is no mention of what happens if the lieutenant governor is elevated to governor.
The change was made after voters in 2012 agreed to allow the lieutenant and lieutenant governor to run on the same ticket.
Following that direction to the letter was not the intent of the bill when it was drafted, House Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope said.
Were that the case, there would have been a campaign for Haley to appoint a successor to former Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell when he left to become president of the College of Charleston in June 2014, Pope said.
Instead, then-Senate President Pro Tempore Courson stepped down from his position so that Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Kingstree, could momentarily hold that spot before rising to become the next lieutenant governor.
"The legislative intent was that that all started in 2018," Pope said. "If you look at what happened with Yancey, arguably they did it the old way even though (the change) was ratified in 2014. So there's some precedent. Nobody objected then to doing it the way it's always been done."
If Leatherman, in fact, steps aside to clear the path to lieutenant governor, it remains unclear which senator would step up for that post and who the Senate might then elect (or re-elect) as its president pro tem.
Gavin Jackson contributed to this report.