COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - He’s been in and around South Carolina’s government for decades, but Gov. Henry McMaster says that it’s the fresh perspective of his running mate, political newcomer Pamela Evette, that gives their ticket the unique ability to tackle the state’s challenges.
Together, they promise a mix of experience and new ideas.
“Fresh eyes ensure that there are no preconceived notions, so you can see things clearly,” McMaster said. “It’s a huge advantage.”
Thanks to a recent change in South Carolina’s law, hopefuls for governor and lieutenant governor now run on a joint ticket, as opposed to running separately, a process that, at times, has produced two officeholders from different political parties. McMaster, 71, said the change has allowed him to select a political partner with whom he’s developed camaraderie and whose skillsets complement his own.
McMaster and Evette sat down with The Associated Press on Wednesday just after a trip to the state Republican Party offices, where the GOP certified their nomination as the party’s top ticket. Evette, 50, has never before sought political office. She owns and operates a payroll company in Travelers Rest with her husband and has an accounting background. To McMaster - a former U.S. Attorney, two-term attorney general and proponent of state ethics reform - those talents complement his prosecutorial and governmental skills.
If elected in November, McMaster said, he will task Evette with helping him achieve tax reform and to navigate an array of other issues with lawmakers, who hold most of the power in state government.
“She is persuasive, and that will be really helpful with legislators … county governments, municipal governments, the federal government,” the governor said.
“I’m really persuasive,” Evette added. “I can really argue.”
The two have developed a natural, professional chemistry since last fall, when McMaster announced he’d chosen the businesswoman to run with him. They’d met a year earlier, at an event for then-White House hopeful Donald Trump. Oftentimes, Evette has gone out on the campaign trail alone for McMaster if he’s otherwise busy with official gubernatorial business.
It’s that ability to run with a true partner, McMaster said, that makes the pair a powerful team, although he’s not afraid of being upstaged by his teammate.
“I think it just doubles our power to listen, learn, get the facts, understand things and present the message,” McMaster said, speaking as his beloved 17-month-old English bulldog - Little Mac - scampered under a table at his feet.
“I know it’s going to happen. People are going to call the office and say, ‘We’d like the governor to come do this,’ and (scheduler) Leigh will say, ‘Well I’m sorry, he’s out of town, but the lieutenant governor can come.’ They’ll say, ‘That’d be better,’” the governor said.
As their pick for governor, Democrats have nominated James Smith, a 22-year-veteran of the state Legislature who says his lieutenant governor pick, fellow lawmaker Mandy Powers Norrell - a conservative Democrat - will also be his liaison to a Legislature likely to remain controlled by Republicans.
“This team comes at a point in South Carolina’s history where we need an executive who knows again how to work with the General Assembly,” Smith recently told the AP. “I think it’s going to give the office much more significance than it has had in the past.”
If elected, Smith and Norrell would likely be dealing with a heavily Republican state Legislature. Despite those party differences, Smith said it’s possible to make progress, citing late Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell’s legislative achievements during a time when Democrats dominated the state’s chambers.
“We’ve got to find that place again in our politics where we remember where there are things that are more important than party,” Smith said.
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