COLUMBIA Rep. Bobby Harrell easily retained his powerful post as speaker of the South Carolina House Tuesday as representatives returned to Columbia to elect their leaders for the next two years.
The House re-elected the Charleston Republican to the post he’s held since 2005. Rep. Jay Lucas, R-Hartsville, was then re-elected to his second term as speaker pro tempore. No one else was nominated for either position.
“I realize it’s imperative as I do this job to be fair to every region of this state and every member of this body regardless of political party,” Harrell said after being sworn in to the chamber’s highest office for a fifth time.
The 20-year incumbent noted several freshmen members had to go through the petition process to win office after being booted from primary ballots over what many considered a paperwork technicality. Nearly 250 candidates statewide were decertified after the state Supreme Court ruled on a lawsuit regarding the correct way to file for office, stemming from a 2010 law change that caused confusion.
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Five freshmen were elected as petition candidates. To get on the November ballot they had to collect enough signatures from registered voters in their district and were listed without party affiliation.
“Now that you’re here, let’s work together to fix the process so something like that never happens again,” Harrell said.
Four of the five were initially on the ballot as Republicans. They include Rep. Samuel Rivers Jr. of Goose Creek, the Legislature’s second black Republican since Reconstruction. The first, Rep. Tim Scott of Charleston, was re-elected last month to his second term in Congress.
The House’s organizational session continues through Wednesday. The session occurs every two years after the election. It’s largely a matter of going through the motions, as shown by the elections of Harrell and Lucas.
Harrell will hand out committee posts Wednesday. Committees then choose their chairmen. One top spot is vacant after the retirement of Rep. Jim Harrison, who led the Judiciary Committee for 18 years.
Rep. Greg Delleney, R-Chester, is expected to gain the position. Delleney, first elected in 1991, is the longest-serving incumbent currently on the committee.
The November elections gave Republicans its largest majority in the House since Reconstruction.
Republicans currently hold 77 of 123 House seats, with a special election scheduled for March in a heavily Republican Greenville County district. The House’s freshman class consists of six Democrats and 13 Republicans.