GREENVILLE — Gov. Henry McMaster, a decades-long South Carolina government insider, picked a Greenville County business owner with no political experience as his 2018 running mate.
Pamela Evette, an accountant who owns an outsourcing human resources and payroll firm, becomes the first person ever picked for a joint ticket in South Carolina. The governor and lieutenant governor candidates are running together for the first time next year.
The pick presents voters a sharp contrast for the Republican ticket as well as a female counterbalance to McMaster’s strongest GOP challenger in his bid for a first full term.
Catherine Templeton, a 46-year-old Mount Pleasant attorney who’s led two state agencies, is running as an outsider in her first election.
McMaster — a 70-year-old former U.S. attorney, state GOP chairman and two-term attorney general — has paired himself with a 50-year-old business owner who has never campaigned for office or worked in government. Evette calls herself a "Trump girl" who met the then-future president during swings in the state last year and attended his inauguration, where she first met McMaster, an early supporter of the New York billionaire's campaign.
Evette's addition to the ticket seven months before the primary gives McMaster someone who can attend campaign events and fundraisers while he works in the governor's office and gives voters more time to learn about her, a stranger on the state's political scene. Still, her selection will certainly draw criticism since a government neophyte would be next in line to become governor if McMaster wins next year.
Danielle Vinson, a political scientist at Furman University in Greenville, said she had not heard of Evette before Tuesday. Vinson questioned if such an outsider with only private business experience had the necessary compromise skills needed in politics.
"This is one big gamble," Vinson said.
McMaster, who made the announcement at a Greenville construction business that works with Evette's company, is convinced he has the right person.
"Pam is what South Carolina is all about," he said. "She’s smart, hard-working and has the experience we need."
Evette, a mother of three, has built an award-winning resume over the last few years as president and CEO of Quality Business Solutions. She says the company’s gross revenue tops $1 billion, 17 years after its founding. It reportedly employs more than 40 full- and part-time workers and has clients in 49 states, with the largest employing about 43,000 people.
She “comes from very humble roots,” her personal website says, as her father was a tool and die maker.
"My dad always told us 'work hard, do good, aim higher,' and that’s what we’ll do every day for South Carolina," she said Tuesday.
McMaster, a Columbia native and University of South Carolina graduate, also picked a relative newcomer to the state. Evette, an Ohio native, moved to South Carolina in 2005. She and her husband, David — the company’s director of operations — built their home and business on his grandfather’s land in Travelers Rest.
Her website also includes a photo of her and several other women with then-Gov. Nikki Haley, who received Evette’s first donation to a South Carolina candidate in 2014 of $20. According to state online records, her only other personal donation came in May, when she gave $3,500 to McMaster’s campaign, the maximum allowed per election cycle. Her company gave McMaster an additional $1,000.
Choosing Evette could help ease some pressure over McMaster's longtime ties to powerful political consultant Richard Quinn, who was indicted last month on conspiracy and illegal lobbying charges as part of the ongoing Statehouse corruption probe that has ensnared six current and former lawmakers.
"With the environment in Columbia, it's good politics not going with someone from the good ol' boy network," Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan said.
McMaster’s pick also gives him a tie to the Upstate, where he fared badly in the 2010 four-way GOP primary, often placing third or fourth in those uber-red counties behind the eventual winner, Haley.
Templeton, Haley’s pick to lead two state agencies, could become the state’s second female governor. Voters haven’t elected a female lieutenant governor in nearly 40 years. Nancy Stevenson, the first female to hold any statewide post, left office in 1983.
Templeton took a shot at McMaster's running mate announcement in a tweet late Tuesday, saying leaders in Columbia have clearly "run out of answers" and were relying on "political stunts."
The other candidates in next June’s GOP gubernatorial primary are Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, a former senator from Anderson, and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, a former Democratic senator from Kingstree.
Bryant plans to name a running mate before the June primary, his campaign said, while Templeton has no timetable. McGill did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.
There is no state law for when a gubernatorial candidate must pick a running mate. Proposals say only that the decision must come by August in time to send absentee ballots overseas. While legislators passed a law confirming the governor-lieutenant governor ticket that S.C. voters backed in a 2012 referendum, they have yet to approve the specifics.
Andy Shain contributed to this report.