Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday that political experience is not a requirement for the successor to resigning U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint.
Haley will name that successor, and two of the governor’s five reported finalists for the coveted seat – former first lady Jenny Sanford and state agency head Catherine Templeton – have not held elected office.
“It is not about time in office, which I think is the wrong way of looking at government,” said Haley, who was a political newcomer when she won a state House seat in 2004. “It’s the effect and the result they can show in office.”
Templeton is a Charleston lawyer who has led the state’s labor and environmental agencies under Haley.
Sanford is a former Wall Street banker who helped run campaigns and office staffs for her ex-husband, former Republican Gov. Mark Sanford. Jenny Sanford also backed fellow Republican Haley’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Haley said she has kept in touch with Sanford, asking her opinion, on occasion, on how to handle political situations.
“She’s lived it. She’s been through it,” Haley said. “She’s a confidante that I’ve always looked to to just say, ‘What am I doing wrong?’ and ‘What am I doing right?’ ”
The governor also cited the state’s four new GOP congressmen, elected in 2010, as proving experience is overvalued, saying the four quickly adjusted to their roles in Congress. “It took them no time to find their place,” she said.
Two members of South Carolina’s 2010 congressional class also are reportedly finalists to replace DeMint: Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg and Tim Scott of North Charleston.
Scott is considered the front-runner, after DeMint, R-Greenville, reportedly told Haley that Scott was his choice. . Scott would be the first African-American U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction.
The other finalist, former S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, is the only one of the five finalists ever to have won a statewide election.
Haley would not discuss DeMint’s possible successors Wednesday. But she said all the candidates mentioned in media reports were qualified and, if named, would run in the 2014 special election for the final two years of DeMint’s term.
While Haley has said she will look for someone with a political philosophy similar to DeMint, she said Wednesday that she does expect to appoint another DeMint, one of Washington’s fiercest spending critics.
“We are never going to find someone as conservative and staunch as Jim DeMint,” Haley said. “What I think we will find is someone who understands the state of South Carolina and the crisis we’re going through.”
Haley has not provided a timetable for choosing a new senator. She said she is taking her time to ensure her appointee “would be in sync with the people of South Carolina.”
DeMint announced last week that he would resign in January – two years into his second, six-year term – to head the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Meanwhile, a bill was filed Wednesday in the S.C. House to require that future U.S. Senate vacancies be filled by special election, not gubernatorial appointment.
Bill author Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, said he was not criticizing Haley or DeMint’s potential successors, but he wanted more voter involvement in the process and to avoid giving anyone a head start in keeping the seat.
U.S. House vacancies are filled with a special election in South Carolina. Senate vacancies would be filled the same way under Rep. Quinn’s bill. He also is introducing a second bill that would allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement until the special election can be held.
“Any way we fill those vacancies will have flaws,” Quinn said. “But we must not dilute the people’s right to choose their representation at the ballot box.”