As expected, the South Carolina House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously chose State Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, to be their next Speaker of the House.
Lucas, currently the Speaker pro tempore, had been serving as Acting Speaker ever since his predecessor Bobby Harrell was indicted in September and eventually pleaded guilty to several counts of misusing campaign funds. The Hartsville attorney is in his 16th year in the House and has served as the chamber’s second-ranking position for the past four years.
On Tuesday, his fellow House members decided to make him their leader for at least two more years. “At first, it was a little overwhelming,” Lucas told reporters after the vote. “But I think we’re starting to fit in the role a little better. It’s going to be a learning curve.”
Lucas had been considered the frontrunner for the position ever since Harrell lost the seat. Two other Republican legislators rumored to be considering runs against him said in September that they would not seek the job. It marks the first time the House has promoted its pro tempore to Speaker since 1980, when Ramon Schwartz was elected by his peers.
The veteran Republican said he would strive to make the House more “inclusive” than it had been under his predecessor — meaning rank-and-file members would be more involved in committees and nominating candidates for state board openings. He also promised to disperse some of his powers among other members of the chamber to reduce the extraordinary influence Speaker Bobby Harrell held.
“Amassing so much power in the hands of a single member leads to stagnation,” Lucas said during a 15-minute acceptance speech. “Eventually, holding on to that power becomes more important than doing great things with the power of that position.”
He also pledged a renewed focus on ethics and infrastructure. Earlier this fall, Lucas appointed a pair of ad hoc committees to recommend a way for the House to move forward on both topics.
House members also on Tuesday voted unanimously to move State Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, into Lucas’ old post of Speaker pro tempore. Pope is perhaps best known to South Carolinians as the solicitor who prosecuted Susan Smith after Smith eventually admitted drowning her two sons in a Union County lake, then telling police that a man had abducted them. He has served in the chamber for four years