S.C. lawmaker’s selection makes history for Senate
Tim Scott will be South’s first black GOP senator since Reconstruction.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The man who will become the South’s first black Republican senator since Reconstruction said Monday his ascension in politics showed the evolution of his state and the nation.
U.S. Rep. Tim Scott was picked by fellow Republican Gov. Nikki Haley to take over the seat being vacated by Jim DeMint. Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants who became South Carolina’s first female and minority governor in 2010, acknowledged making history with her appointment, but she stressed that she picked Scott for his conservative values.
“It is very important to me as a minority female, that Congressman Scott earned this seat; he earned this seat for the person he is, for the results he’s shown,” she said. “He earned this seat for what I know he’s going to do in making South Carolina and our country proud.”
Scott, 47, will be sworn in Jan. 3 to replace DeMint, who announced earlier this month he would forgo the remaining four years of his term to lead the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Scott’s selection culminates a fast rise through South Carolina politics. Just four years ago, he was chairman of the Charleston County Council. The 2008 election made him the first black Republican in the South Carolina Legislature in more than a century, and in 2010, he won his seat in the U.S. House from his conservative coastal district with 65 percent of the vote.
He’ll become only the fourth black Republican in Senate history and the only black Republican in Congress, after Rep. Allen West of Florida lost his reelection bid last month.
Outside the Statehouse where Scott spoke, a statue still stands of Ben Tillman, the post-Reconstruction former governor and U.S. senator who advocated lynching any black who tried to vote. Another statue depicts the late Strom Thurmond, who still holds a record for a 24-hour filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
But Scott has never dwelled on his race.
“I’ve never heard on the campaign trail, ‘Besides the fact you’re black or because you’re black, here’s what we want of you.’ They asked me questions about values and issues, and that’s an amazing thing. It speaks to the evolution of South Carolina and our nation,” Scott said.
Scott will serve for two years and then face an election in November 2014. That would give South Carolina two Senate elections: one for Scott and the other for two-term Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Senate Republicans welcomed the appointment, which comes more than a month after Republicans’ poor performance with minorities in the election forced party soul-searching.
Graham, South Carolina’s senior senator, said Scott has a unique opportunity to inspire others and be a leading voice for the conservative cause.
“When it comes to trying to explain what America’s all about, I could not tell a better story than the story of Tim Scott,” Graham said. “Tim is what America’s all about.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Scott laughs during a news conference Monday in Columbia, S.C., after Gov. Nikki Haley named him to replace Sen. Jim DeMint.