Historic SC Senate day: Lt Gov steps down, Peeler takes over
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A lieutenant governor stepped down from his role presiding over the South Carolina Senate for the last time Tuesday after more than 150 years.
The Senate unanimously approved a new position called “President of the Senate” on Tuesday to preside over the body like the lieutenant governor used to do. The step comes in response to voters changing the state constitution in 2012 to make the lieutenant governor a ticket with the governor and more of a vice president than the executive branch’s representative in the Legislature.
Senators unanimously voted to make 38-year Senate veteran Harvey Peeler their new president. The Republican from Gaffney is a favorite for his passion and his sense of humor. He immediately donned the purple robe over his orange tie — appropriate for the day after his beloved Clemson Tigers won the national championship in football — and promised to lead fairly.
“You chose me to lead you. And lead you — by God I will,” Peeler said at the end of his speech, emphatically banging the gavel.
Senators also passed new rules, most simply inserting the Senate President into roles held by either the lieutenant governor or the President Pro Tempore. The new rules had to happen with the amendment removing power from the lieutenant governor. Voters approved the amendment after proponents convinced them it made more sense in the modern world to let the governor pick a lieutenant governor than end up with the two leaders from different political parties.
There was one key change from the past — senators agreed the Senate President cannot be the leader of a Senate committee to prevent consolidation of power. It was a victory four years in the making for Republican Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey of Edgefield, who in the Senate’s collegial fashion, praised the final man in the Senate leadership role instead of gloating in his victory.
The final Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman didn’t take the new job because of that rule. The Florence Republican decided to remain chairman of the powerful Ways and Means committee, which considers the state budget.
“This state is steeped in tradition. We don’t change often,” Leatherman said of the Senate, whose roots go back 300 years to the South Carolina Royal Council.
Peeler promised to be a leader for both Democrats and Republicans. He spoke of angels who watch over the chamber, pointing directly to a portrait of Sen. Clementa Pinckney, a black Democrat. The slayings of Pinckney and eight other members of the Charleston church where he was pastor in a racist attack in June 2015 shook the entire state and especially his fellow senators, who agreed with little fight to take down the Confederate flag that long flew in front of the Statehouse.
Peeler said he hopes the old saying that a body takes on the traits of its leader comes true.
“We will laugh a lot. We will cry a little. And we will love and respect each other every day for the rest of our lives,” Peeler said.
The lieutenant governor has presided over South Carolina’s Senate at least going back to 1868 when the state constitution was rewritten following the Civil War.
Outgoing Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant, who had an unsuccessful run for governor, became the last in the post to preside over the Senate.
He will be replaced Wednesday as lieutenant governor by Pamela Evette, a Greenville businesswoman who ran on the ticket with Gov. Henry McMaster.
Evette will now get to create precedents in her new role.
“This is the day that we will extract the lieutenant governor from the Senate chamber,” Bryant said.
Bryant quietly stepped down from the podium after giving Peeler the gavel. He then shook a few hands and spent a few moments looking back just before he slipped out a side door and into history.
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