Editorial | Haley Thinking Ahead on DeMint’s Seat

December 12, 2012 

  • More online Follow editorial writer Dan Golden on Twitter, at @_DanGolden.

Sen. Jim DeMint’s surprise resignation last week instantly put plenty of pressure on Gov. Nikki Haley, who will appoint his immediate successor until an election is held in 2014.

Haley has responded well thus far, particularly with her announcement that she would not be appointing a placeholder, somebody to simply fill the seat for two years until the election.

“Many have discussed the possibility of a ‘placeholder’ appointee who would pledge to serve for only two years and not seek election to the seat in 2014,” Haley said on Monday. “While there are some good arguments in favor of that approach, I believe the better case is against it.”

She’s right. The state is better served by a senator who would not only likely run in 2014, but a senator who stands a fair chance of winning.

Those who favor the placeholder approach point out that whoever is chosen now will have a strong advantage in 2014 as an incumbent on the ballot, even though he or she was only chosen by the governor and never actually voted on by the people of this state. It’s a valid concern, and one that will no doubt be highlighted before the election. But the concern, legitimate though it is, does not justify filling the seat with a powerless figurehead.

Like it or not (and there are admittedly many reasons not to like it), power in the U.S. Senate generally comes down to electability and tenure. Senators who will be around for a while, or who have been in office for a while, are paid attention to. Those who are on their way out or who are a flash in the pan, are largely ignored.

This is not a time for us to be ignored. The state and nation are facing enormous challenges which need to be addressed now, not a couple of years down the road.

Appointing a lame duck for two years would effectively ensure that the senator would be passed over and ignored. Two years in Washington is nothing. The senator would cast votes, yes. But he or she would have zero influence when it came to proposing and pushing through legislation of importance to our state or our nation. And while it’s true that a freshman senator’s influence is often negligible, an appointee who stands a good chance of being re-elected in 2014 would boost that power, and a little pull is better than none.

Haley made much the same point:

“While I am an avid supporter of term limits, I do not want the effectiveness of our state’s new U.S. senator to be undermined by the fact that he or she will automatically be leaving the office such a very short time after assuming it.”

With DeMint scheduled to leave at the end of this month and the governor’s short list reportedly now down to five, a decision should be coming soon. U.S. Rep. Tim Scott has emerged as the front runner, and among the state’s elected Republicans, he’s perhaps the best choice for the job.

While we’ve been a bit leery of Scott’s tea party background, he has shown himself to be more flexible and less stubborn than many from the group, indeed, less stubborn than Sen. DeMint has been. He has reached well beyond the tea party in his current office to his and the state’s advantage. His knack for politics and ability to lead have been on display in D.C. as he headed the House Freshman Caucus and won a seat on the influential House Ways and Means Committee. If he’s ultimately chosen, as seems likely, it will be a good outcome for South Carolina.

Ultimately, voters will have their say in 2014. The task for Haley now is to pick the best incumbent for residents to vote on two years from now.

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