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Then-Democratic state Rep. James Smith answers a question during a South Carolina governor debate on October 25, 2018 at Greenville Technical College. Lauren Petracca/Staff

COLUMBIA — Two months after losing the governor's race, former Democratic state Rep. James Smith has found work at the University of South Carolina.

Smith, a Columbia attorney, started working this week in a $140,000 job as executive director of military strategies and programs for USC's online school, Palmetto College, a university spokesman said. 

Being a major in the S.C. National Guard who served a combat tour in Afghanistan makes Smith uniquely qualified to the position, the university said.

The more than 1,200 veterans, active-service members and military dependents account for about 3.5 percent of the student body at USC's main Columbia campus.

"Mr. Smith’s network of contacts and combination of legal and military experience will assist us in our goal of growing the number of active duty, military civilians, veterans, dependents and other military-related personnel who are directly served through Palmetto College and the entire UofSC system," university spokesman Jeff Stensland said.

Smith's hiring is expected to resurrect questions about political ties at the state's flagship college.

In recent years, USC hired an aide to Democratic congressman Jim Clyburn in the president’s office, while an aide to Vice President Joe Biden worked in the athletic department. Before he was governor, Henry McMaster was hired as a fundraiser for the a new law school building.

USC was knocked for having five politicians speak at a string of commencements — Biden, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and then-Charleston Mayor Joe Riley. Soon afterward, USC adopted a policy to have the school's president deliver commencement addresses.

Smith said his work over more than two decades in the S.C. House, where he was one of the chamber's leading Democrats, had nothing to do with his hiring at his alma mater where he received political science and law degrees.

He said he had to apply for the job and went through interviews before he was hired.

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Smith said his new job is a combination of two positions meant to make USC the most military-friendly college in the country. 

Smith said he will look at building further ties to South Carolina military bases in addition to classrooms already at Fort Jackson in Columbia and Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter.

Smith did not seek re-election to the House last year but ran for governor instead. He lost to McMaster, a Republican stalwart who was lieutenant governor and state attorney general. 

Smith said he will continue to have a private legal practice and work as a contract lawyer for the state attorney general's office.

Smith, who was injured by a roadside bomb while on deployment, plans to close his disabled veteran-owned business that has offered pharmaceutical services, medical supplies, valet parking and data analytics.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.