House leadership vacancies - the second shootout?

Make no mistake about it - this spring was a political shootout at the OK Corral, for control of the Legislature. Even though the dust is just beginning to settle from those races, the next shootout is about to begin.

One gang - the Governor, his legislative allies and special interest groups - fought it out with the other Republican "gang" of legislators. Many of the casualties were first and second term legislators, such as Catherine Ceips, Heyward Hutson, and Randy Scott, who hadn't secured their political bases. While the Governor's people scored some wins, a lot of the seats targeted by the Governor and his allies didn't go their way.

The next shootout between the two camps will be in the upcoming races for a whole pack of open House leadership slots, in which many of the candidates are either allies of the Governor or those who were unsuccessfully targeted by the Governor's crowd. In fact, we don't think we've seen this much turnover at the same time since the GOP took over the House after the 1994 elections.

We’re going to look at what’s open and who’s running – and see what you, our readers, have to say:

MAJORITY LEADER: Jim Merrill has been many of the things a Majority Leader should be – articulate, charismatic, and politically savvy. His decision to step down from this post has opened up a hotly contested race to succeed him: Mike Pitts from Laurens County, a retired police officer who is the star of Second Amendment advocates, Kenny Bingham from Lexington County, and Alan Clemmons from Horry County.

We jokingly dubbed Clemmons “The Waterboy” at this year’s GOP convention, but he’s a prodigious fundraiser, having run one of the first $100K House races ever run. His fundraising prowess could make him a strong asset to the House Republican leadership. Plus we appreciate his work ethic, as shown by his willingness to hit the convention floor, passing out water bottles to delegates.

Ok, we apologize for the bad joke there ... Clemmons is the guy on the left.

ASSISTANT MAJORITY LEADER: This seat is also opening up. We see a two-way race at present, between Florence second-termer Kris Crawford and Bruce Bannister, who surprised political observers by winning the Greenville County House seat that was vacated when former House Speaker accepted the prestigious ambassadorship to Canada. Crawford is seen as the Sanford ally in this race. Now the two are going to see who can get on the fast-track for even higher leadership slots.

LCI CHAIRMAN: Current Chair Harry Cato, from Greenville County, is moving up in what seems to be an uncontested bid for Speaker Pro Tempore, which opens up a three-way race between Lexington Rep. Nikki Haley, ranking committee member Oconee Rep. Bill Sandifer, and Charleston Rep. Wallace Scarborough.

Sandifer turned back a well-funded challenge from the Governor's allies, while Haley is well-known to be a strong Sanford ally. Scarborough is seen as somewhere in between the two, but faces what is expected to be a strong re-election challenge which he will have to win before he can seek the slot.

EDUCATION AND PUBLIC WORKS CHAIRMAN: Initially this race was intended to be a showdown between Bob Walker and Ted Pitts from Lexington County. But the 19 people who gave Walker’s challenger an upset win in the GOP primary changed that, and the race is now a four-way affair.

While Pitts may have been an early post-Walker favorite, he has been identified as the candidate most closely aligned with Governor Sanford, which we were told has cost him some support. In the realigned open race, B.R. Skelton and Bill Whitmire, both of whom survived well-funded attacks by Governor Sanford’s allies in the recent GOP primaries, have also begun testing the waters.

The wild card in this race is Mike Anthony, a Union County Democrat who is well-liked by Republicans. Keep in mind this committee had a Democratic chair even after the GOP took over the House in 1994.

It would seem that should any of the candidates than Pitts become the next Education chair, it would be a stinging and costly rebuke for the Governor’s crowd, who invested a small fortune to knock Walker off in hopes of getting a more friendly leader of that committee.

AGRICULTURE CHAIRMAN: For some, Green Acres may be the place to be. For others, the place to be is the chairmans's seat on the House Agriculture Committee.

The current holder, Bill Witherspoon from Horry County, is retiring, and a three-way races is developing for the job. Dwight Loftis from Greenville County seems to have a good shot at the seat, having been in the House since 1996, as compared to Jeff Duncan from Laurens County, who was elected in '02 and Nelson Hardwick from Horry County, who will be starting his second term in the House.

We did have someone offer us $20 to say nice things about Jeff Duncan. He seems to be a nice enough guy, but come on, we don't take payoffs here. Just free beer.

YOUR TURN … what do YOU think? Sound off in the comments section. We’d love to hear what you’ve heard, or what you think of the candidates and our analysis of these developing leadership races.

5 Response to "House leadership vacancies - the second shootout?"

  1. heading to florence in the morning mg 24/6/08 22:21
    certainly hope crawford gets it
  2. Old political hack 25/6/08 05:33
    This is good stuff Earl. Dont underestimate some guy out of the blue. On House Education and Public Works, watch Gambrell the second term guy with a roledex full of clout.
  3. Anonymous 25/6/08 12:41
    I'm sure that's why they were offering you the $20. Why don't you just fess up to your weekend escort service?
  4. Mike Reino 27/6/08 16:13
    Earl, Chris is still in his first term in the House, but he is going to be a star. When Sanford was looking to pick of Hugh Leatherman, his name was the fuirst mentioned, so much sop that he had to clear it all up. He will be Senator one day if he wants it, after Leatherman retires - sometime around 2050! ;)
  5. Pokey 27/6/08 16:15
    They're all gonna lose man. Dude, put down the bong tube and stop pretending to be smart.

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