by Sam Spence
Late yesterday, Gov. Nikki Haley emerged as President-elect Donald Trump's top choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. This morning, Haley tweeted that she accepted Trump's offer and will remain governor until confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Reports that Haley was Trump's top choice were confirmed overnight by sources to Columbia Free Times Editor Andy Shain reporting for the Charleston Post and Courier.
So, what does that mean for South Carolina state government?
Well, South Carolina is about to get a new governor. And it's about to get its fifth lieutenant governor in five years. But the shake-ups don't stop there: One of the state's most powerful leadership positions and the political landscape for the 2018 gubernatorial election shifts dramatically.
Assuming Haley is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, she'll move into a role currently held by Pulitzer Prize winning policy wonk Samantha Power, who has held various foreign policy and national security positions both in the Obama administration and earlier in her career. In fact, she'll be the only permanent appointee to hold the position without a Sanford or Ivy League pedigree since Bill Richardson in 1998. (Haley graduated from Clemson with an accounting degree.) Richardson previously served in Congress and went on to be elected governor of New Mexico and served as Obama's Secretary of Energy after running for president in 2008.
Once Haley leaves office, Lt. Gov Henry McMaster will be elevated to be the state's chief executive. McMaster unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2010 and according to the P&C has "craved the governor's seat" since finishing third in that primary. McMaster's governorship caps off a career in state politics that includes a stint as attorney general, SCGOP chair, and leader of the state Commission on Higher Education.
McMaster's ascension leaves some question about who will replace him as lieutenant governor. Senate Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman is regarded by many as the most-powerful member of the state legislature and is next in line to fill the largely-ceremonial role. However, there is precedent for power-conscious lawmakers making moves to avoid leaving the Senate. In 2014, then-Senate leader John Courson stepped down as president pro tempore to avoid becoming lieutenant governor after Glenn McConnell left to lead College of Charleston. Democratic state Sen. Yancey McGill eventually took over the post for eight months until McMaster was installed. It is worth noting that McConnell did not dodge the chain of succession when Ken Ard was forced to resign in 2012, giving up his own position as a powerful leader within the general assembly to become lt. gov.
The outlook on the 2018 governor's race also changes with Haley leaving office. Instead of a seat left open because of term limits, McMaster would now face the proposition of running for re-election as the incumbent governor. Rumors had been flying since the election that U.S. Sen. Tim Scott and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy were plotting a run as a gov-lt. gov ticket and ex-DHEC director and attorney Catherine Templeton also figured as a formidable Republican candidate if McMaster was forced into a GOP primary.
Haley's term as governor is scheduled to end in early 2019. She could be confirmed as Trump's UN ambassador as early as late-January 2017.