The election defeats of several longtime South Carolina senators this past spring mean new faces will lead several key committees in the chamber next year. On the House side, the retirement of Ethics Committee Chairman Kenny Bingham meant his committee position opened up. But most of the key committee heads remained the same as 2015-2016 in that chamber.
Following defeat of State Sen. Larry Martin in the Pickens County GOP primary last June, the key committee for any proposed criminal laws will now be led by a former Democratic senator who switched to the Republican caucus in 2004. State Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, is a moderate Republican who previously led the Ethics Committee. He is considered a much closer ally to Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman than Martin was. Rankin is a Conway attorney in his private sector career.
With Rankin’s election as Judiciary Committee chair, State Sen. Paul Campbell, R-Berkeley, will be the new chair of the Senate Ethics Committee. Campbell has a center-right reputation in the Senate and is also a reliable ally of Leatherman. He is a former Alcoa executive who now leads the Charleston County Aviation Authority and has served in the Senate since 2007. The Ethics Committee handles investigations into campaign spending or misbehavior by senators and Senate candidates.
The House Ethics Committee will also have new leadership after previous chairman Kenny Bingham did not seek reelection this past cycle. State Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, was chosen by his peers on Tuesday to take Bingham’s place. Pitts is a retired police officer who has a reputation as one of the House’s more libertarian-leaning members. He usually makes his voice heard on issues involving conservation or law enforcement, but did lead the unsuccessful House opposition to removing the Confederate battle flag from the Statehouse grounds in 2015. Despite his hardline conservative views, Pitts’ character is respected on both sides of the aisle by his House colleagues.
The Republican primary defeat of another political veteran State Sen. Wes Hayes opened up the chairmanship of the Senate’s Banking and Insurance Committee, which handles proposed insurance and financial regulations. His replacement will be State Sen. Ronnie Cromer, R-Newberry, a conservative who is an on-again, off-again ally of Leatherman and has been in the chamber since 2003.
Finally, the primary defeat of longtime State Sen. Mike Fair left the chair vacant on the Corrections and Penology Committee, which discusses issues or proposed laws dealing with prisons and criminal probation. Senator Shane Martin, R-Spartanburg, a conservative who has historically allied with the party’s “Tea Party” wing. Martin owns an aerodynamics testing business and has served in the Senate since 2009. He has clashed with Leatherman in the past, but was among the 19 Republicans who supported the president pro tempore’s reelection on Tuesday.
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, will chair the Rules Committee, replacing Cromer. Massey is perhaps the most high-profile of Leatherman’s political opponents to win a committee chair position. The Rules Committee drafts Senate procedural rules and considers which bills will be moved to the top of the agenda to help break opponent filibusters. Massey is the Senate Majority Leader and has been in the chamber since 2007. He is an attorney in his private sector career.