WASHINGTON — S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley picked U.S. Rep. Tim Scott to be the state's next U.S. senator Monday, making him the only black Republican in Congress and the South's first black Republican senator since Reconstruction.
Scott, 47, takes over for Jim DeMint, who announced earlier this month he would forgo the remaining four years of this term to lead The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. His resignation takes effect Jan. 1.
Scott's selection culminates an amazingly fast rise through South Carolina politics. Just four years ago, Scott was chairman of the Charleston County Council. In 2008, he became the first black Republican in the South Carolina Legislature in more than a century, and in 2010, won his seat in the U.S. House from his conservative district with 65 percent of the vote.
He'll become only the fourth black Republican in Senate history and the first black senator since former Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was elected president. Scott has been one of two black Republicans in the House. The other, Rep. Allen West of Florida, lost his re-election bid last month.
Scott will serve for two years and then face an election in November 2014 should he want to seek a term. That would give South Carolina two Senate elections – one for Scott and the other for two-term Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
After asking for a moment of silence for the victims of the Connecticut school shooting, Scott said he accepted the challenge of trying to help the country through troubling times.
“Our nation finds itself in a situation we need backbone. We need to make some very difficult decisions,” Scott said.
Haley introduced Scott by saying no one could fill DeMint's shoes, but appointing a trailblazer like Scott could show that it was a new day in South Carolina.
“The entire state understands this is the right U.S. senator,” said Haley, who became South Carolina's first female governor in 2010.
Scott grew up in poverty in North Charleston. His parents divorced when he was 7, and he remembered his mom working 16 hours a day to support him and his brother. Scott, who is single, introduced his mother at the beginning of his speech.
But growing up with a single mother wasn't always easy, Scott said. In high school, he was in danger of flunking out until he met the late John Moniz, a conservative entrepreneur who ran a Chick-fil-A beside the movie theater where Scott worked.
They became friends and Scott said Moniz taught him important values, like how enlightened self-interest requires giving first before reaping the reward of receiving and how growing the value of how you see yourself will make you look more important in other people's eyes.
Scott would go on to get a degree in political science from Charleston Southern University, which is affiliated with the South Carolina Baptist Convention and touts how it integrates faith into learning and serving.
Scott said he wouldn't have agreed to be a U.S. senator if he didn't think he could make a difference.
“The future is incredibly bright for America,” Scott said. “We have our challenges and we have things to overcome, but boy, does the future look bright in South Carolina.”