COLUMBIA, SC — U.S. Rep. Tim Scott, who overcame poverty in North Charleston to build a successful business and political career, was appointed today by Gov. Nikki Haley to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Jim DeMint.
Haley made the announcement during a noon news conference at the State House with DeMint and fellow U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham at his side.
Scott, who will be sworn in Jan. 3, will become the first African American U.S. senator from the South since Blanche Bruce of Mississippi in 1881.
"It is an historic day in South Carolina," Haley said, but added that, "as a minority female," it was important to her for people to know that "Congressman Scott earned this seat. He earned this seat for the person he is. He earned this seat for the results he has shown."
The Lowcountry Republican will succeed DeMint, who announced on Dec. 6 that he was resigning with four years remaining in his second six-year term to head the Heritage Foundation think tank next month.
Other finalists were U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg, former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, former S.C. First Lady Jenny Sanford and state environmental agency head Catherine Templeton.
Scott, 47, is expected to take over DeMints role as a Tea Party fiscal conservative in the Senate. DeMint, of Greenville, reportedly favored the congressman as his successor, and Haley said she wanted to appoint someone with the senators ideals.
Scott began the news conference by saying thank you to "my lord and savior Jesus Christ," but quickly moved to the issue that has and will consume federal lawmakers: the federal budget.
"We have a spending problem, ladies and gentlemen, and not a revenue problem," Scott said after Haley introduced him as the state's next U.S. Senator. "It is very difficult for us to fix the problem in a nation with $16 trillion in debt and an annual deficit of more than $1 trillion talking about raising revenue from the top two percent. We could take all the revenue on top two percent and could not close the annual deficit."
Scott said the country's economy is "definitely and definitively on the wrong track."
"We have to look at pro growth principles," he said. "If we raise taxes on top two percent, almost overnight in the first 12 months it would eliminate 700,000 new jobs.
"My objective is to start with the conversation with tax reform and spending reform."
Scott will serve until a special election is held in 2014 for the final two years of DeMints term -- and Scott said Monday he will run for the Senate seat, dispelling any notion that Scott is a "placeholder" appointment.
Haley said last week she planned to appoint a successor she believed could retain the seat. Scott had nearly $420,000 in contributions on hand late last month, according to federal elections records.
"I look forward to having the opportunity to introducing myself to citizens throughout this great state of South Carolina," said Scott, whose political career has been limited to Charleston area voters.
A primary for Scotts 1st district congressional seat should take place in 11 weeks with a general election in 18 weeks, according to state law. The opening is expected to lure a large number of candidates.
Scotts ascension to the Senate came after some life lessons, according to reports about his upbringing.
He was raised by his mother after his parents divorced when he was young. She supported her family working 16 hours a day as a nurses assistant. Scott got jobs working at gas station and movie theater, but he struggled early in high school.
Scotts life turned around after meeting the owner of the Chick-fil-A, John Moniz, who became his mentor. Moniz taught him principles of self-reliance that became the bedrock of his political career and influenced his decision to become a Republican.
Asked what this appointment means to him, Scott said it means "don't give up on your kids. It may be tough. It may be challenging, but all things are truly possible in this nation."
He went to Presbyterian College to play football but lost interest as he became more religious. Scott transferred Charleston Southern where he graduated with a degree in political science. He started a career in insurance, and he collected sales awards.
Scott spent 13 years on the Charleston County Council and was chairman when he was among political leaders who helped land a Boeing jet manufacturing plant in North Charleston, the states largest-ever economic development project.
But former Gov. Mark Sanford first introduced Scott to a statewide audience in 2007, when he asked state lawmakers to elect Scott to replace former Treasurer Thomas Ravenel, who had been indicted (and was later convicted) on drug charges.
In 2010, Scott defeated scions of two powerful South Carolina political families, Strom Thurmond and Carroll Campbell, to win a seat in Congress with endorsements from national GOP stars Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.
He chaired the Republican Freshman Caucus, but he declined to join the Congressional Black Caucus, saying he wanted to focus on helping all Americans and not one group. That continued a theme throughout his political career of refusing publicly to put his race at the forefront.
During his first term, Scott introduced legislation to curb the authority of the National Labor Relations Board after it sued Boeing over building a plant in South Carolina rather than more union-friendly Washington where the aircraft maker is based.
Scott won a second two-year term to Congress in November and received an appointment to the influential Ways and Means committee.
Scott will be the only African American in the Senate and just the seventh ever to serve. Two African Americans from Mississippi served during Reconstruction. Sen. Edward Brooke, R-Massachusetts, sat in the Senate from 1967-79.
The last three were all Democrats from Illinois. Carol Moseley Braun was in the Senate from 1993-99. Barack Obama served four years until 2009 when he was inaugurated as president. Roland Burris completed Obama's term until 2010.