Harvey Peeler steps down as Senate majority leader

Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney

COLUMBIA — Several legislators are vying to become the Senate’s second-in-command after Sen. Harvey Peeler resigned Tuesday from his position as majority leader.

Though Peeler stunned his colleagues with his announcement, the surprise seemed to wear off by the time senators made it into Tuesday’s session after participating in private, back-chamber conversations throughout the day.

Among the names being floated to lead the Republican caucus are Sens. Shane Massey of Edgefield, Ronnie Cromer of Prosperity and Larry Grooms of Charleston.

“If my caucus wants me to be the majority leader, I would certainly serve,” Grooms said. “It’s not something that I was actively seeking, but I do have all the confidence that I would be able to unite our caucus probably more than any of the senators who have expressed interest in being majority leader.”

A vote for the new leader will take place Wednesday during the caucus’ lunch meeting. Peeler, who held the position for 11 years, declined to suggest a potential successor.

“The chamber is full of qualified people,” Peeler said. “That chamber, if we have the lowest common denominator, is that we all have an appetite for power. If we didn’t we wouldn’t be there. So let the Hunger Games begin. May the odds be ever in your favor.”

Peeler, who has served in the Senate since 1981, will still seek re-election for his Senate seat. But he said he’s been “preaching” about sharing responsibility in the Senate, and letting someone else take over the position is his way of practicing what he preaches.

The majority leader’s main responsibility is to herd votes in the Senate. The leader is also expected to campaign with other senators and gets to appoint senators to conference committees.

He added he plans to still play a role in the Senate as “quality control,” a lieutenant for the majority leader.

Peeler said his decision was not based on previous disagreements with the Senate’s president pro tempore, Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. He also would not speculate on whether he would seek a different leadership position within the chamber.

Leatherman, who has served with Peeler for the last 35 years, lauded his colleague in a written statement.

“This change will also help free up his time to be even more involved in the day-to-day work that goes into putting together the state budget,” Leatherman said. “As vice chairman of the Finance Committee, (Peeler) brings a common sense approach and a straightforward way of thinking that’s a real asset. His voice is particularly important as we deal with the major issues facing our state, especially education, health care and infrastructure.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 843-577-7111.