Republican SC House meets; leaders pledge continued kindness
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A slightly more Republican South Carolina House met Tuesday to elect its leaders, pick seats and organize for the 2021 session that begins in January, as leaders pledged to continue working with kindness.
There were no contentious fights over Speaker, House Clerk or other positions. Unlike two years ago, there didn’t appear to be any unexpected changes in the leaders of committees.
Instead, Speaker Jay Lucas was reelected to a fourth two-year term without opposition, and expressed his desire to continue molding the House into his vison of a chamber with cooperation, kindness, sense of purpose and humor.
“Gandhi once said leadership at one time meant muscle. But today, it means getting along with people,” the Republican from Hartsville said after donning the traditional purple robe to preside over the House.
Republicans flipped two seats during November’s elections and now make up 80 of the House’s 124 members.
Chances are the General Assembly as a whole becomes more partisan when the 124th session starts Jan. 12. The South Carolina Senate increased by three Republicans to 30 seats out of 46, and those Republicans tend to have a more conservative outlook.
But in the House on Tuesday, it was about reaching across the aisle. Three Democrats and three Republicans escorted Lucas to the front of the chamber after his reelection. Democratic Rep. Beth Bernstein of Columbia gave the nomination for Republican Speaker Pro Tem Tommy Pope of York.
And Pope shared a piece of advice that Democratic House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford gave the 15 new legislators who took the oath of office Tuesday.
“If you want to blow this place up, you still have to work together,” Pope recalled Rutherford telling the freshman lawmakers.
The 2020 session suddenly stopped in March, two months before the typical adjournment, because of COVID-19. The House met just a handful of times afterward for emergency matters.
A massive education reform bill died. Plans to reach a final conclusion on whether to sell state-owned utility Santee Cooper were kicked to the next year. And it still isn’t clear if South Carolina can make it to the end of the budget year in June without having to cut spending because of massive COVID-19 disruptions to the economy and tax collections.
Lucas said the upcoming two-year session may be like no other because of the coronavirus.
“The work that we missed last year we will have to do the coming year,” Lucas said.
Lucas also touched on one of his common complaints, saying in 2020 the House overcame “a typically recalcitrant Senate.”
Lucas took over as Speaker after the 2014 session when former Speaker Bobby Harrell was indicted for misusing his office for personal gain. Harrell worked loudly and could hold grudges. Lucas is generally quiet unless he has something important to say, and most of his flashes of frustration come when the 124 members get unruly and don’t listen.
“If you are squatting in a seat and it’s not yours, get up,” an exasperated Lucas said about 50 minutes into the arduous process of getting every member into a seat.
But Lucas’ humor was apparent, too. He noted Tuesday was the birthday of the wife of his right-hand man, Pope, and said Pope and his wife had not spoken for the past year.
“They don’t have any marital discord. She just doesn’t want to interrupt,” Lucas said as the chamber filled with laughter and Pope’s face turned just a little redder under his mask.
Along with Lucas and Pope, the House on Tuesday also reelected Charles Reid as House Clerk, James “Bubba” Cromer as House Reading Clerk, Mitch Dorman as Sergeant-At-Arms and Charles Seastrunk as Chaplin.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.