WASHINGTON — For the first time in six decades, South Carolina is expected to have no representation on the U.S. Senate's armed services panel this year, ending a lengthy stretch for a state where military might has historically played a key role.
U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, both South Carolina Republicans, are set to leave the Senate Armed Services Committee for other high-profile positions. Graham is poised to become the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, while Scott sits on several major panels, including Banking, Finance and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.
Their likely departures will conclude a remarkable streak: The Palmetto State has consistently had at least one senator on the Armed Services Committee every year dating as far back as 1958.
The 60-year run is largely attributable to the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who spent more than 40 years on the panel, including four as chairman in the 1990s. Graham immediately replaced Thurmond on the committee when he joined the Senate in 2003 and has served on it ever since.
Along with prominent former House members like U.S. Reps. Mendel Rivers and Floyd Spence, Thurmond helped lure significant military resources to South Carolina over the course of the 20th century, making it a sizable sector in the state's economy and a prized part of the state's identity.
But the state has already declined from its military heyday, said Citadel political scientist Scott Buchanan, who pointed to the loss of the Charleston naval shipyard in the 1990s as an example of setbacks the state has already faced.
"Part of this has to do with the downsizing of the military, in broad terms, and the military not having as many bases as it once did," Buchanan said. "So is this going to have a big impact on the state? It's already had a big impact over the past 20 years. The amount of military presence is not what it once was."
At this point, Buchanan said he expects the remaining military installations in South Carolina — including the Marine Corps Depot Recruit on Parris Island, Joint Base Charleston, Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Joint National Guard Base — to be safe given their ongoing relevance to defense operations.
Graham is still expected to hold at least one foreign policy spot on the Foreign Relations Committee, where he would be a new addition. He has also previously served on the defense appropriations subcommittee, which would continue to give him influence over where military dollars are spent. New subcommittee assignments are expected to be decided in the coming weeks.
South Carolina also still possesses a few influential policymakers in the House. U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, has several military installations in his Midlands district, and Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, is a senior Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.
“I have always looked out for South Carolina’s military community and I will continue to do so," said Clyburn, D-Columbia. "Our state’s military bases, military retirees, and military contractors make up a huge part of our economy, and I am committed to defending their interests.”
Graham's office declined to comment on the development because the committee assignments have not yet been finalized. The Senate is expected to ratify the assignments this week.
Scott's office said the planned change will not shake his commitment to the military's presence in his home state.
"He will continue to advocate for South Carolina's military priorities, as he has for years," said Scott's spokesman, Ken Farnaso.