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Henry McMaster sworn in as new governor of South Carolina

McMaster succeeds Nikki Haley, who has been confirmed for U.N. ambassador post

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

south-carolina mugCOLUMBIA, South Carolina (CFP) — Republican Henry McMaster has taken the reins as the new governor of South Carolina, after outgoing Governor Nikki Haley’s confirmation to be the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Lieutenant Governor Henry McMaster

Governor Henry McMaster

McMaster, who had served as lieutenant governor since 2011, was sworn in during a brief ceremony inside the South Carolina State House on January 24, shortly after the U.S. Senate voted 96 to 4 to confirm Haley and she resigned the post she had held for past six years.

“I am humbled, honored and deeply appreciative of being granted one of the rarest opportunities to serve the people of my state,” McMaster said. “We will do our best, and we will be our best.”

McMaster was introduced by Haley, who looked as her successor was installed.

“I will always have one eye on South Carolina, and I will always be a phone call away,” said Haley, who will now take up her ambassadorship in New York.

McMaster, 69, served as the U.S. attorney in South Carolina from 1981 to 1985 and as state attorney general from 2003 to 2011. After an unsuccessful run for governor against Haley in 2010, he returned to statewide office by being elected lieutenant governor in 2014.

McMaster was an early and enthusiastic supporter of President Donald Trump, delivering one of his nominating speeches at the Republican National Convention. After Trump won, he told the Associated Press that he had been contacted by Trump’s transition team as a possible pick for attorney general, a post which eventually went to U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

McMaster had been expected to run for governor in 2018 to succeed the term-limited Haley. His ascension to the governorship is likely to give him a significant advantage over any GOP rivals.

McMaster’s ascension also set off an odd scramble to fill the post of lieutenant governor, which ended up going to State Senator Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson.

Under South Carolina’s Constitution, a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor would normally be filled by the state Senate’s president pro tempore, State Senator Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence. However, Leatherman resigned his Senate leadership job to avoid taking the lieutenant governor’s post, which has limited power.

The Senate then voted to install Bryant as president pro tempore so he could become lieutenant governor. Leatherman is expected to try to reclaim his former post.

The same merry-go-round happened in 2014, when the lieutenant governorship became open after a resignation. At that time, Leatherman and the rest of the Republicans in the Senate refused to take the job, which eventually went to Democrat Yancy McGill.

McGill subsequently switched parties and has announced plans to run for governor in 2018 as a Republican.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley

Haley, 45, was the first women ever elected governor of the Palmetto State when she won in 2010. The daughter if Sikh immigrants from India, she was only the second Indian-American elected governor, after former Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

Haley is best known nationally for her handling of the aftermath of a shooting at an African-American church in Charleston in 2015 that left nine people dead. Amid national attention to racial tension in her state, Haley persuaded state legislators to remove the Confederate battle flag from the top of the State House in Columbia.

Haley’s decision to take a spot in the Trump administration marks a turn away from her previously frosty relationship with the new president, whom she once called “irresponsible” for suggesting that the election would be rigged.

Last January, as the presidential race was heating up, Haley delivered the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and gave what was seen at the time as a thinly veiled shot at Trump: “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation.”

Then, just before the South Carolina presidential primary in February, Haley endorsed one of Trump’s GOP rivals, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. When Rubio dropped out in March, she then endorsed U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. Trump responded with a blast on Twitter in which he called her an embarrassment to the people of her state.

Haley never explicitly endorsed Trump during the campaign, although she did tell reporters at the Republican National Convention in July that she intended to vote for her party’s nominee.

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