‘The best is yet to come’: McMaster begins second full term as governor
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster took the oath of office on the steps of the Statehouse in Columbia Wednesday morning to start his second full term as the state’s chief executive.
That puts him in a position to make history in the Palmetto State. At the end of his second full term in office, he will have served in the role for 10 years, longer than anyone else in state history.
Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette, only the second woman to hold that position, also took her oath along with the state’s constitutional officers at the state’s 98th Inaugural.
In his inaugural speech, McMaster said the greatest asset the state has is each other, the “great, unique people” of South Carolina.
“Today, when business leaders from around the world measure the assets of our state, they remark on our people - the character and nature of the people themselves. Visitors do the same,” he said. “They sense their loyalty, patriotism, kindness and steadfastness. They see the natural paradise in which we work and live. They see the historic confluence of our Judeo-Christian and military traditions. And they like what they see, sometimes more clearly than we do ourselves.”
He said the state’s economy is “flourishing” and that opportunities abound thanks to what he called three pillars: economic strength, education and our natural environment.
“Today our economy is as strong as it has ever been in modern times. South Carolina’s booming economy has once again created a record budget surplus. So, it should come as no surprise that 2022 was the most successful year for economic development in our state’s history,” he said. “In fact, we broke the record for the largest economic development project announcement - not once, but twice - in the same year. State government is in superior fiscal shape, we have the largest rainy day reserve fund balance and lowest amount of debt than at any other time in recent memory.”
He touted the state’s personal income tax rate, which he said until recently was the highest in the southeast and 12th highest in the nation.
“No more. Last year, I was honored to sign into law the largest income tax cut in state history,” he said.
He also praised “transformative investments” in the state’s infrastructure, including interstate widening projects; repairs and replacements of roads, bridges and highways; and water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure improvements in rural areas. He also praised the deepening of Charleston Harbor to 52 feet, the deepest on the Atlantic coast.
Improvements to the state’s education system include raising the minimum starting teacher salary by nearly $10,000 to $40,000.
“My goal by 2026 is that we have a minimum starting salary [for teachers] of at least $50,000,” he said.
He said the state expanded full-day, four-year-old kindergarten to all at-risk children statewide and the placement of an armed, certified school resource officer in 90% of the state’s public schools.
“We will not stop until there is an officer in every school, in every county, all day, every day,” he said.
He also said the state’s freezing of college tuition for four straight years and a record amount of financial aid and scholarships have increased access to affordable degrees or skilled trade certificates.
“To address the historic labor shortage, our workforce scholarships have allowed over 10,000 South Carolinians to earn an industry credential in high-demand careers like manufacturing, healthcare, computer science, information technology, transportation, logistics, and construction,” he said.
When it comes to natural beauty and cultural heritage, he said few states, if any, can match South Carolina’s.
“I truly believe that if we cannot find peace and comfort in the pine forests and tidal creeks of South Carolina, we’ll just have to wait until we get to Heaven,” McMaster said.
On potential threats from over-development, mismanagement, flooding, erosion and storm damage, McMaster said this is “our moment to act, while we still can,” adding that to preserve resources and realize our full economic and educational potential, “the first duty of government is to keep South Carolinians safe.”
“We must also ensure that the public has confidence in whom and how all our judges are selected - by making the processes more transparent and accountable; so that every South Carolinian, born and unborn, may enjoy life, liberty and happiness,” he said.
He closed with a message to the General Assembly, saying that he has faith in the people of South Carolina and those they elected to represent them in the State House.
“Let us continue our successful partnership, one that has been based on communication, collaboration, and cooperation, and let us set our State on a course that will provide the opportunity for prosperity, success, and happiness for generations of South Carolinians,” he said. “The best is yet to come.”
The day’s events began with a prayer service at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia.
McMaster campaign spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said five former state governors — Dick Riley, David Beasley, Jim Hodges, Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley — were scheduled to attend the inauguration.
Riley, 90, who served as governor from 1979 to 1987 and later went on serve as U.S. Secretary of Education under President Bill Clinton, will be the oldest former governor attending the ceremony.
Beasley served as governor from 1995 until 1999. Last month, he announced he will step down after a six-year term as executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, which won the Nobel Peace Prize two years ago under his watch. Beasley was appointed to the U.N. Post in 2017 by President Donald Trump.
Hodges served for one term as governor from 1999 to 2003. He is the only Democrat elected to the office since Riley finished his second term.
Sanford succeeded Hodges in 2003, serving until 2011. He went on to return to Congress to represent the state’s First Congressional District from 2013 to 2019, an office he had previously held from 1995 to 2001.
Haley followed Sanford, serving one-and-a-half terms from 2011 to 2017 when she left office at the invitation of Trump to become an ambassador to the United Nations.
McMaster, then lieutenant governor, completed the rest of Haley’s second term and has since been elected to two full terms of his own.
Godfrey said other dignitaries expected to attend included former S.C. House Speaker and U.S. Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins; former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Ed McMullen; and Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann.
Medal of Honor recipient James Livingston delivered the Pledge of Allegiance and Emma Brook performed the national anthem.
After the inauguration, the state’s first family will hold an open house at the Governor’s Mansion from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and will end the day with the Inaugural Ball from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center on Lincoln Street.
The 75-year-old Republican defeated Democratic challenger and former First District Congressman Joe Cunningham in November to win his second full term in office. The race was called for McMaster less than two hours after polls closed on election night.
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