- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - South Carolina Sen. Harvey Peeler stepped down Tuesday as leader of the chamber’s GOP caucus, saying the move allows him to be more forthright in trying to reach consensus.

Peeler, 67, said he hopes to become the Senate’s “self-proclaimed quality control manager.”

“We desperately need quality control within the Senate,” said the 36-year Senate veteran. “I’ve heard the term ‘dysfunctional Senate’ more times than I want to hear.”

When the session ended last year, Peeler was critical of the Senate’s inability to address top-priority items of roadwork funding and ethics reform. A GOP compromise on roadwork ended a filibuster and passed the Senate last month. Senators are expected to renew debate on ethics Wednesday.

Peeler, R-Gaffney, is known to be outspoken in a colloquial style he calls “Gaffney-eez.”

“Y’all are going to enjoy Harvey Peeler unplugged,” he told reporters.

The caucus is expected to publicly vote Wednesday on Peeler’s replacement, who will be the chamber’s first new majority leader since 2005. Peeler is not endorsing anyone among the Senate’s 26 other Republicans.

“That chamber’s full of qualified people. If we have a lowest common denominator, it’s that we all have an appetite for power,” Peeler said. “Let the hunger games begin.”

Peeler faces a primary opponent in June - his first in at least 20 years. Peeler said the move also allows him time to campaign.

His GOP challenger, political newcomer Kenny Price, said he has no dispute with Peeler. Born with cerebral palsy, Price said he wants to advocate for the disabled.

“I just want to see some change within the Senate. He’s been there a long time,” said the 51-year-old lifelong resident of Boiling Springs.

Peeler said his decision is not directly tied to Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, though it does allow for a distribution of leadership. Leatherman’s election in June 2014 as the Senate’s top leader gave more roles to the already powerful Finance Committee chairman.

“I’ve been preaching we need to have shared responsibilities in the Senate,” said Peeler, chairman of the Medical Affairs Committee and vice-chair of Finance. “This is my way of practicing what I preach.”

Peeler became majority leader in 2005 after Leatherman resigned the post he’d held since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2000.

Last June, Peeler asked Leatherman to resign as president pro tem, saying the 2014 vote was an experiment that ultimately proved the combined responsibilities are too much for one person. Leatherman refused.

On Tuesday, Leatherman said Peeler’s “done a tremendous job as our majority leader.”

“This change will also help free up his time to be even more involved in the day-to-day work that goes into putting together the state budget,” said Leatherman, R-Florence. “He brings a commonsense approach and a straightforward way of thinking that’s a real asset.”

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