- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 19, 2018

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina lawmaker who opted not to mount a gubernatorial bid of his own says he’s backing a Republican challenger to Gov. Henry McMaster, telling The Associated Press on Tuesday that the governor has “failed to advocate for the reforms our state desperately needs.”

Giving his endorsement to Greenville businessman John Warren for the June 26 GOP runoff, state Sen. Tom Davis said that he had remained frustrated by McMaster’s quick handling of last year’s gas tax bill in what Davis has called a “drive-by veto.” By not taking more time to garner support among legislators - who overrode McMaster’s veto - Davis said the governor missed “a golden opportunity to demand that the legislative politics be completely stripped out of the road-expenditure process.”

Similarly, Davis said McMaster signed a bill that significantly increases taxpayers’ contributions to public employee retirement, despite Davis‘ pleas that the governor veto the bill so less drastic changes could be possibly worked out.

Gov. McMaster’s inaction in these two critical areas evidences, in my judgment, a reluctance to challenge powerful status quo interests and to demand wiser use of the taxpayers’ money,” Davis told AP. “Chances for real reform, given the tremendous power wielded by the General Assembly and the power of entrenched special interests, are few and far between, and when they are presented they simply must not be squandered. From everything I’ve learned about John Warren, he will not whiff on chances like this, and that’s why he’s earned my support in this runoff.”

Prior to his official endorsement, Davis has had positive things to say about Warren, with whom he planned to appear in Beaufort later Tuesday. Following a GOP gubernatorial debate ahead of the June 12 primary, Davis wrote on Facebook that he liked what the candidate had to say on two issues important to him.

“I’m impressed with South Carolina GOP gubernatorial candidate John Warren’s views on offshore-drilling (against) and medical cannabis (for), especially since he hails from the Upstate where, according to conventional wisdom, politically influential and socially conservative voters skew the other way on these two issues,” Davis wrote.

Davis has long been an advocate for decriminalizing the use of medical cannabis in South Carolina, sponsoring several bills including one that advanced to the Senate floor but did not get a vote. He’s also been a staunch opponent of drilling for oil off the state’s coast, telling AP earlier this year that the Trump administration’s proposal to expand the practice is “horrible public policy” that could harm marine life, as well as the state’s $20 billion tourism industry, much of which is based in and around the lush coastline.

Elected to a third state Senate term in 2016, Davis previously served as chief of staff to former Gov. Mark Sanford. The Beaufort Republican was also a Trump delegate at the 2016 Republican National Convention, praising some of the president’s economic ideas but calling his messaging “maddeningly inconsistent.”

Davis had long been mentioned as a possible candidate for this year’s Republican gubernatorial field, which had included McMaster and four challengers. In September, he told AP he was sitting out the race because he felt he could have a greater impact on state government by continuing in the Legislature.

McMaster and Warren are set to debate Wednesday in Newberry. The runoff winner will face Democratic state Rep. James Smith in the November general election.

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Reach Kinnard at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP. Read her work at https://apnews.com/search/meg%20kinnard.


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