Capping off a sudden jump to the Governor’s Mansion few saw coming even three months ago, Henry McMaster was sworn in as South Carolina’s 117th governor on Tuesday night.
McMaster ascended to the job after his predecessor Gov. Nikki Haley stepped down to become the next United Nations ambassador. Haley had announced her intentions in late November, but wanted to wait until the Senate officially confirmed her to the post. That confirmation came Tuesday evening.
“There is lots of work to do, but we have the right person to do it,” Haley said before McMaster’s ceremonial swearing-in. “So while I have said before that I will be stepping away for a little while, I am very comfortable in the fact that Gov. McMaster will take over.”
McMaster, a mainstay in South Carolina Republican politics for nearly four decades, is 69 years old and would be the oldest person to serve as governor in the Palmetto State since James F. Byrnes left office at age 72 in 1955. He would also be the oldest person entering the post since South Carolina became a state.
“As I assume these new responsibilities, I am humbled, honored and deeply appreciative,” he said during his brief remarks Tuesday.
House and Senate leaders are hoping for a more pragmatic McMaster administration than Gov. Haley, who often frustrated their road funding efforts with her principled stands against a gas tax increase. ” Today marks a period of new beginnings for the executive branch,” House Majority Leader Gary Simrill said in a statement. “And Republicans in the House pledge to work with the McMaster administration for the advancement of the great state of South Carolina.”
Democratic officials wished McMaster luck. “If they put ideology and partisanship aside, Democrats will be eager to work with them to move our state forward,” state party chairman Jaime Harrison said. “But if they continue to prioritize the lives of a privileged few over the needs of the many in our state, we will resist and fight them every step of the way.”
McMaster was the first statewide politician to endorse Trump in this year’s Republican primary. He also backed the then-frontrunner in January — at a time when most conservatives kept their distance amid concerns over Trump’s positions and forecasts that he would not remain in the race. McMaster also remained a loyal Trump ally and continued to preach unity at SCGOP events despite the divide between many Republican leaders and their own nominee.
A Columbia attorney, McMaster was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as the U.S. Attorney for South Carolina from 1981 until 1985. He had unsuccessful runs for the Senate and lieutenant governor in 1986 and 1990, respectively. In 1993, he was elected as chairman of then-rising South Carolina Republican Party and held that post for nine years. In 2002, he finally won an election to be South Carolina’s attorney general and remained in the office for eight years. He sought the GOP nomination for governor in 2010, but lost in the primary to then-State Rep. Nikki Haley. He stayed out of the spotlight for four years before reentering politics to run for lieutenant governor in 2014, easily winning the office.
McMaster was fined by the State Ethics Commission last year and ordered to repay more than $73,000 in campaign contributions. The commission ruled McMaster had improperly sought the money from his existing donors to retire a campaign debt after losing the 2010 governor’s race. McMaster’s attorney at the time said the candidate had not been aware of the law.