Dr. Oran Smith

2016 Primary Update: Senate Runoff Edition

June 29, 2016

Dr. Oran Smith

Four more incumbent Senators went down on June 28th. In our previous post about the 2016 primaries, we provided a few reasons why so many incumbents lost. Those principles still hold.

So, on to the more important question: what does Primary 2016 mean for governing the state?

First, a leadership vacuum on the Majority side could keep the pace as slow as ever in the Senate.

Since the days of Marion Gressette, the SC Senate has been known as “The Graveyard.” It is where all good (and bad) ideas go to die. On the last full day of the 2015-2016 session, the Senate Calendar was a whopping 52 pages long.

That may not change. With the floor skills of Senators Larry Martin and Wes Hayes gone, it could be a free-for-all. The most senior Senators in the Majority will now be Hugh Leatherman, Harvey Peeler, John Courson and Luke Rankin. Leatherman has formidable floor skills, but he is no longer a young buck. The Democrats will be formidable on the floor with the leadership of Nikki Setzler, Brad Hutto, Gerald Malloy and Vincent Sheheen. Then there’s the tea party conservative “William Wallace Caucus.” They are sophomores and juniors now. Is 2017 their moment to effect real change?

Key Veteran Players: Majority Leader Senator Shane Massey and Transportation Chair Senator Larry Grooms.

Second, the GOP will have most, if not all the fresh blood in the Senate, and it tilts young.

The Republicans will have at least six new freshmen on the back bench. Three have Statehouse experience (Stephen Goldfinch, Rex Rice, and Scott Talley). Three do not (Wes Climer, Sandy Senn, and William Timmons). If Republican Susan Brill can beat Democrat House member Mia McLeod, there will be seven GOP frosh, or a full 25% of the caucus.  Most of these new faces are young, energetic, and possess good people and legislative skills.

Key Question: Will the freshmen change the Senate or will the Senate change the freshmen?

Third, little appears to be changing in the House except for a marked shift to the right in the GOP and a greater sensitivity to what the voters actually think.

Hopefully, this will drive the kinds of reforms that are overdue in South Carolina.

Key Question: Did the Republican Caucus get the election message sufficiently to take action?

Stay tuned to Palmetto Promise for election news and analysis as it breaks.