COLUMBIA — Now that Nikki Haley has resigned as governor, a game of musical chairs with a dash of South Carolina politics is set to begin at the Capitol.
By state law, former Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster ascended to the governor's seat the moment Haley resigned.
And as expected, powerful Sen. Hugh Leatherman resigned his position as president pro tempore of the S.C. Senate.
The move reinforces his desire to not move up and become lieutenant governor after Haley departed for the United Nations ambassador job.
That's where the intrigue begins.
Leatherman remains in the Senate where he chairs the powerful budget-writing committee. On Wednesday, the Florence Republican hopes to get his old leadership position back, but he will have competition.
First, the Senate is expected to elect Sen. Kevin Bryant, an Anderson Republican just elected to his fourth term, as its new leader Wednesday.
Then the 49-year-old pharmacist will be promoted to lieutenant governor, a part-time position considered politically weak.
Leatherman is then expected to run to regain his Senate leadership seat — except that former Senate Republican Leader Harvey Peeler told The Post and Courier on Tuesday that he would oppose the 85-year-old businessman.
Peeler, a dairyman from Cherokee, declined to say why he was challenging Leatherman, though he has criticized the amount of power Leatherman has amassed over 36 years in the Statehouse.
Current Senate Republican leader Shane Massey said Peeler has promised to uphold state law, which Leatherman is avoiding by taking the circular route back to re-securing the leadership post.
“This is just a shameless game of musical chairs,” the Edgefield Republican said soon after McMaster was sworn-in Tuesday. “Make no mistake about it. what’s going to happen (Wednesday) is really skirting the constitutional obligations of the job. Everybody knows it, and it’s shameful.”
Massey said he expects that Leatherman has enough votes to regain the leadership post, a sign of how much influence the senator carries on both sides of the aisle.
Still, Massey added, “Sometimes it’s important to make a statement.”
Staying put: McMaster will not move immediately into the governor’s office or mansion, The Post and Courier has learned. Haley still needs to pack up her office across the Statehouse lobby from McMaster. Some renovation work scheduled for the mansion will also delay the new governor from moving in for a few weeks with his wife, Peggy, and their bulldog, Boots.
New chief: Trey Walker, a political veteran who has worked with McMaster and Haley, is expected to be named the chief of staff in the new governor’s office, The Post and Courier has learned.
Walker has worked recently as a lobbyist for BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina. He was spotted around McMaster’s lieutenant governor office Tuesday escorting guests and coordinating the swearing-in ceremony. Mark Plowden has been McMaster's chief of staff as lieutenant governor. Plowden plans to work in the governor's office.