COLUMBIA — S.C. Sen. Tom Davis announced Wednesday he will not run for governor next year, saying he could be more effective in the Legislature and that the timing to run was not right for his family and business.
The Beaufort Republican, one of the Legislature's fiercest anti-tax hawks, said he would be in a weaker position to change South Carolina's government from the governor's office. The state constitution hands more power to the Legislature.
Davis saw this firsthand as chief of staff for then-Gov. Mark Sanford, a Republican who fought, often unsuccessfully, with a GOP-dominated General Assembly on trying to reduce spending.
“I don’t want to tilt at windmills; I want to get things done, and I’m in a unique position in the state Senate to impact public policy on behalf of individual liberty and free markets – in some cases to a greater degree than if I were in the governor’s office," Davis said in a statement.
"Recent history has shown that reform-minded governors without legislative support can’t get much accomplished," he added.
Davis was able to stop efforts to raise the state's gas tax to pay for road repairs for two years, until the Senate changed the rules he used to prevent filibustering. The Legislature approved the state's first gas tax hike in three decades this year.
He also has been strong advocate for legalizing medical marijuana in South Carolina. Davis got a bill passed that allowed using a marijuana derivative to treat epilepsy patients.
Davis would have been at a disadvantage in terms of finances if he ran for governor. Candidates need to raise at least $3 million to be competitive in next June's primary and must raise money outside of the Palmetto State since governorships arguably have become national political seats.
Gov. Henry McMaster and his chief GOP rival at the moment, former two-time state agency head Catherine Templeton, are more than halfway there already after entering the 2018 race earlier this year. Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, another Republican, poured more $250,000 of his own money to jump-start his bid in July.
Davis looked at what joining the race would mean for his family and law practice and decided, "I’m just not in a position to undertake an endeavor of this magnitude."
The senator's departure leaves four Republicans seeking the nomination for governor: Bryant, McMaster, Templeton and former Lt. Gov. Yancey McGill, who switched parties last year after decades as a Democrat.
No Democrats have announced formally for the governor's race, though state Rep. James Smith, a Columbia attorney, is expected to enter the fray this month. Sen. John Scott, a Columbia businessman, and Rep. Justin Bamberg, a Bamberg attorney, also are weighing bids.