Trump’s pick of Haley gives McMaster job he’s long wanted
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Donald Trump’s pick of Gov. Nikki Haley as ambassador to the United Nations makes one of the president-elect’s earliest supporters South Carolina’s next CEO.
As per the state constitution, 69-year-old Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster will ascend to a job he’s long wanted if the U.S. Senate approves Trump’s decision. Who becomes lieutenant governor is unclear.
Haley defeated McMaster, then a two-term state attorney general, for the job in a four-way 2010 Republican primary. He’s been a close ally since and congratulated her on Wednesday’s announcement.
“Today is indeed a great day for South Carolina,” he said, mimicking Haley’s frequent phrase. “Gov. Haley will be an inspiration to all who believe in the American dream, at home and around the world. South Carolina is bursting with talent, and today we swell with pride that one of our daughters is preparing to step into history on the world stage.”
But it was McMaster, not Haley, who backed the billionaire businessman in South Carolina’s first-in-the-South presidential primary.
In January, McMaster became the nation’s first statewide officeholder to endorse Trump, while Haley backed Mario Rubio. Trump won that primary by 10 percentage points over Rubio. When Rubio dropped out, Haley backed Ted Cruz, the state’s third-place finisher.
Last week, McMaster said it was South Carolina’s “stamp of approval” that gave Trump a winning boost, and he never regretted his decision to back the businessman.
“Mr. Trump is well aware of the importance and the critical nature of South Carolina’s role in his election,” he said, as speculation swirled that Trump was considering Haley for a job somewhere in his administration.
At the time, McMaster said, the Trump transition team contacted him as well to gauge his interest in being the U.S. attorney general. Trump has since tapped U.S. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, another early Trump supporter, for that Cabinet post.
McMaster, a University of South Carolina Law School graduate, was President Ronald Reagan’s first appointee for a U.S. attorney, serving from 1981 to 1985. He was chairman of the state Republican Party from 1993 through 2002, as the GOP gained control of the House and then the Senate.
It’s unclear who — if anyone — steps into McMaster’s current job.
Considered a part-time job, the lieutenant governor’s current duties are to preside over the Senate and oversee the Office on Aging. That changes in 2019.
When former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard pleaded guilty to campaign violations in 2012, then-Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell reluctantly left his role as the state’s most powerful lawmaker to fulfill what he called his constitutional duties.
But when McConnell left two years later to be president of the College of Charleston, Sen. John Courson resigned the leadership post so he could stay in the Senate. The GOP-controlled Senate then elected a Democrat to step into the lieutenant governor’s spot, since no Republican wanted the job. McMaster was elected five months later.
To prevent another such scenario, the Legislature asked voters in 2014 whether the governor and lieutenant governor should run on the same ticket — starting in 2018. Under that scenario, if the No. 2 spot becomes vacant, the governor can choose the replacement.
Voters approved the constitutional change.
Some lawmakers argue that means McMaster can choose his successor. But others say that provision doesn’t start until after the 2018 election.
“It’s very clear,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin, R-Pickens. “It would be easier if the governor could make that appointment, so it wouldn’t have to be a senator. There’s no reason for a senator to give up their seat. ... But I’m afraid we’ve got one more circumstance where it has to be addressed.”
The lieutenant governor’s office went vacant from 1965 to 1967, as longtime Senate President Pro Tem Edgar Brown simply refused to take the job, and no one challenged him.
Senators are set to elect their leader at a post-election organizational session next month.
Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, did not return messages Wednesday.
Associated Press Writer Meg Kinnard contributed to this report.