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Legislature: Trump’s U.N. pick changes outlook for S.C.

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

State Sen. Stephen Goldfinch and House Rep. Lee Hewitt will arrive in Columbia next week to be sworn into office and receive their committee assignments. Neither could have predicted just how interesting things would be as they start new jobs in the S.C. General Assembly.

President-elect Donald Trump has picked Gov. Nikki Haley as his nominee to become United Nations ambassador. Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, one of the earliest Trump supporters, will ascend to the Governor’s Mansion with two years to prepare for election as the incumbent. Some see this as a twofer for Trump, appealing to traditional Republicans with Haley and putting a supporter into the governor’s seat in an early primary state.

Hewitt, named to the Department of Health and Environmental Control Board by Haley, said he’s not worried about her lack of diplomatic experience. “Having gotten to know her over the past eight years — two years of running and six years of serving — I think Gov. Haley will do an excellent job,” he said. “She’s a quick learner, very smart and capable of doing anything she puts her mind to.”

Hewitt said a new governor won’t change his approach in Columbia. “I have met with the lieutenant governor and talked with him and certainly feel comfortable with him,” he said.

McMaster is a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general. He backed Haley, then a backbench representative from Lexington, in the 2010 Republican runoff for governor after losing to her in the primary. After she became governor, Haley appointed McMaster to the State Ports Authority and to help lead a task force suggesting state ethics law changes before he won the 2014 lieutenant governor’s race.

Goldfinch is looking forward to working with the new governor. “I’m happy for Nikki,” he said, “and glad to see her go ... up there. I know that Henry is going to do a good job for us. He’s been around South Carolina politics a long time and understands how to get things done, how important it is to collaborate.”

Goldfinch fell out of Haley’s good graces during his last term in the state House. She backed his opponent, Reese Boyd, for the District 34 Senate seat when Ray Cleary decided to retire. “It’s exciting for me as a legislator, having never had the kind of cooperation I foresee out of the executive branch,” Goldfinch said. “Henry is a good person. I trust him and believe he will be real effective for the state and my district in particular. In the past it seems like it’s been difficult to get attention for coastal issues. I believe Henry will be attuned to those.” The McMaster family owns a house on Pawleys Creek.

As for the lieutenant governor’s job, neither Hewitt nor Goldfinch are predicting an outcome. Hugh Leatherman, Senate president pro tempore, is next in line of succession. Both say it’s highly unlikely he would take it, and state law does not require it. Leaving the state’s No. 2 seat open does not change the chain of command. The Senate president pro tempore would become governor if no one occupies the lieutenant governor’s office.

Goldfinch said it won’t be a Democrat, even though former Democrat Yancy McGill took the job the last time it was open. “We don’t have many Democrats as well respected as Yancy was,” he said. “I doubt we will see a Democrat. Sen. Leatherman is not going to take it. Who can blame him? He’s the most powerful person in the state. How do you throw all that away for a perfunctory job? I think we’ll end up with somebody that’s good and respected.”

Goldfinch said there are some constitutionalists saying McMaster could appoint his successor. “I’m not sure I read that into it,” he said, “but that’s interesting.”

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