SC: McKinney’s Run

South Carolina real estate developer Pat McKinney has instantly become the front runner for the most irrelevant political job in the state.

Pat McKinney

McKinney, never before a political candidate, acknowledges that the office of Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina is one of very little consequence other than to preside over the state senate (while wearing a robe, no less) and administering the state Office on Aging.  Those duties, he told the Lexington County Republican Party on 6 January, “are very important.”  He also said, however, that he wants to partner with the governor and the Secretary of Commerce to grow the state’s economy and bring a business perspective to government.

I see that as a good thing, and Mr. McKinney is a very attractive candidate for state office, but it’s hard to accept that his intentions are so simple.  This is a very successful and very connected man.  The $46,000 salary that comes with the office is no incentive for someone of Mr. McKinney’s means.  But then, altruism has no price tag.

Methinks there are a couple of possible ulterior purposes to Mr. McKinney’s candidacy.  The easiest conclusion is that he is using the Lieutenant Governor’s job as an entree to run for Governor in 2018.  This year’s campaign and, assuming election, his tenure at the State House, would provide him with state-wide recognition and a platform from which he could launch a bit for the top spot.  Still, as easily assumed as this reason may be, when dug out, it may not hold up.  A hint to dismissing the idea of higher office is one of McKinney’s strongest supporters, Chad Walldorf.

Walldorf is the chair of the South Carolina Board of Economic Advisors (a Governor Haley appointee) and was rumored to be on Haley’s short list for appointment to Jim DeMint’s vacated U.S. Senate seat, a post that eventually went to Rep. Tim Scott.  Like McKinney, Walldorf is a real estate developer and, closer to my heart, owner of Sticky Fingers Barbeque.  But more to the point, the capital city rumor mill is churning with scuttlebutt that Walldorf is actively positioning himself to run for governor post-Haley (2018).  Would Walldorf promote someone who may be his competition?

There is another, more cleaver and likely, impetus for McKinney’s run – to ensure Nikki Haley’s re-election.  Let’s set this idea up.

The Charleston City paper posted the following about McKinney:

McKinney is a member of Nikki Haley’s inner circle. He’s a campaign donor who was on her transition team once she was elected and currently serves on her re-election effort’s campaign finance team. Haley has rewarded McKinney by appointing him to a position on the State Ports Authority. They are personally close. The Haley family attended his daughter’s wedding, and McKinney’s young son-in-law has served in both the Governor’s Office and on Haley’s re-election campaign.

The paper went on to recount:

Back when Haley was running for governor in 2010, McKinney was the chairman of ReformSC, one of several nonprofits left over from the Sanford administration that supported the former governor’s policy agenda with TV advertising. McKinney got involved in the group around the spring when the relatively unknown Rep. Haley was pushing for on-the-record voting in the Legislature. She was also in last place in a four-person race for governor. ReformSC spent $400,000 on a TV ad showing Haley at a Tea Party rally, and it urged voters to get on board with her proposal, although it was hard not to see the commercial as a Haley campaign ad. Political observers have long credited that commercial for giving Haley a needed boost during the campaign.

According to the latest campaign finance records (October, 2013), McKinney already had over a half million dollars available in his warchest.  The date of the October disclosure is four days before McKinney’s formal announcement.   In the coming months, it is far more than likely that he will collect exponentially more money for his campaign.  A campaign for a $100,000 a year part-time inconsequential job.

I suspect the McKinney venture will be designed to serve as a secondary campaign to that of Governor Haley’s.  Look for the two of them to show up together at a number of venues and for McKinney to laud Haley’s record as one of economic prosperity that needs to be continued, etc.  Essentially, McKinney will be stumping for Nikki Haley while campaigning for himself, effectively augmenting the governor’s campaign coffers with money from his own.  It would follow the same model of which ReformSC was accused in 2010 and is certainly in the vein of political action committees (PACs).

On Tuesday, McKinney’s campaign announced its executive committee.  Take a look at the list and notice some of the names.  Jenny Sanford, Katon Dawson (former SCGOP chair and former/current Rick Perry campaign advisor), former Governor James B. Edwards, (also former Secretary of Energy under President Ronald Reagan and president of the Medical University of South Carolina), Mike Brenan, president of BB&T South Carolina, and John Napier, former congressman and federal judge.

Oh, and Chad Walldorf. 

The list is a compilation of some of the state’s heaviest business and political heavyweights.  Folks, they ain’t doing this just to elect a friend to a trivial post.

If this is, indeed, the intent of McKinney and his long list of pro-Haley supporters is to get the Governor re-elected, it’s damned brilliant.  And, if it keeps a Democrat out of the Governor’s Mansion, I’m all for it.



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