COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA)—Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster’s different style and personality could make a difference in some of the top issues facing South Carolina, after he’s expected to become governor next year. In a written statement issued Tuesday, he said he and Gov. Nikki Haley met last week to start planning the transition for when she becomes U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and he becomes governor.
Gov. Haley has had an often-strained relationship with the legislature. One year she issued report cards on lawmakers, giving bad grades to those who disagreed with her. She also campaigned against some lawmakers in her own party.
This past legislative session, lawmakers trying to find a way to pay for much-needed road and bridge repairs debated raising the state’s 16.75-cents-per-gallon gas tax, one of the lowest in the nation. But Gov. Haley promised to veto the increase unless lawmakers also passed a much larger tax cut. They approved neither.
Bill Ross, executive director of the SC Alliance to Fix Our Roads, says he thinks there’s a better chance that lawmakers will come up with a roads plan once McMaster becomes governor. "I don't see him threatening legislators and that type of thing. I think Henry's going to be somebody who's going to be about compromise and working together to get solutions to problems," he says.
Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, doesn’t know if a new governor will have an effect on the roads debate, but he thinks other recent events will. "I don't think that a veto will be as apparent this year because we've seen how our people have suffered from our infrastructure needs. And so let's look at the world from a year ago and two years ago from these great storms and these great floods that we've ended up having in our state and look at what has happened to the people as they have suffered,” he says. "I think the people are going to cry out and say, 'You know what? We have to live first, and, you know, our homes are flooding and our roads are horrible, and so what can we do to help with our infrastructure needs?'"
Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, has been friends with McMaster for 50 years, since they were both undergraduates at the University of South Carolina. He thinks McMaster’s decades of public service, as U.S. Attorney for South Carolina, attorney general, and lt. governor presiding over the Senate, set him up for success. Sen. Courson chairs the Senate Education Committee, and one of the other major issues lawmakers will be working on is coming up with a way to address a decades-long lawsuit by rural school districts over equity.
Sen. Courson says, "I think he is a principled conservative, as is Gov. Haley, and I think he'll take a conservative approach to education on policy as well as funding."
Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, is a former police officer who chairs the law enforcement budget subcommittee. He says he thinks McMaster understands the need to pay law enforcement officers better because of his experience as U.S. Attorney and attorney general. He thinks McMaster’s temperament will also mean a better working relationship with the legislature.
"Henry is also an open-door guy, and what I mean by open-door is he is absolutely willing to listen and is not obstinate to change. If you can convince Henry that your way is a better way or a more efficient way, he's inclined to go along with you," he says.
McMaster says he’s appointed Columbia businessmen Ed McMullen and Bill Stern to help him with planning the transition.