COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Lt. Gov. Kevin Bryant touted his conservative credentials as he officially entered the 2018 governor’s race Friday and said he wants to “bring integrity back” to state politics.
Bryant’s announcement in his hometown of Anderson makes him the fourth candidate competing for the Republican nomination next June. No one has announced a bid as a Democrat.
Bryant, first elected to the state Senate in 2004, said family discussions and prayer prompted him to run. While he agrees with his opponents’ conservative rhetoric, he said, he’s the lone candidate with the record to back it up.
“Government is a dangerous tool to only be used as a last resort — a tool that cannot replace God or family or common sense,” he said. “Your government fails you in all things.”
In 2005, Bryant helped found the Senate’s libertarian Williams Wallace Caucus, named after the Scottish rebel depicted in the movie “Braveheart.” A “Don’t Tread On Me” Gadsden flag sits on each member’s desk.
His anti-tax votes include opposing all bills that increased the state gas tax to fix South Carolina’s roads. His record is also very socially conservative. During his 12 years as senator, he was among the Legislature’s staunchest abortion foes and proponents of using tax policy to help parents send their children to private school.
Bryant’s signs carry his campaign theme: “Integrity.”
Many of South Carolina’s leaders lack the personal integrity needed to “resist the temptation empowerment brings,” he said. But he declined to name anyone and sidestepped questions about his opponents.
A special prosecutor’s investigation into potential Statehouse corruption has, since 2014, resulted in the conviction of one Statehouse leader and indictment of three other legislators. How many others could be caught up is unknown, he noted.
Several other legislators have been convicted or resigned in the last few years amid allegations outside that probe.
“I don’t know where the fires are, but I know there’s a ton of smoke in South Carolina,” Bryant said.
The 50-year-old pharmacist became lieutenant governor in January after Nikki Haley’s confirmation as United Nations ambassador made Henry McMaster governor and created a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office. Bryant was the only Republican willing to leave the Senate for a role largely viewed as ceremonial.
The post also offered no clear political future.
The lieutenant governor’s main duties are presiding over the Senate and overseeing the Office on Aging. But that job description will end with the 2018 election. As per a constitutional change approved by voters in 2012, party nominees for governor will start selecting their running mate next year.
Knowing voters could not elect him to a full term in the job, Bryant said in January he saw the new role as a way to advance conservative ideas. He’s been touring the state and fundraising since. He opened a gubernatorial campaign account just last week. But he has $98,000 available in his lieutenant governor’s account.
McMaster, a former two-term attorney general and state GOP chairman, is running in 2018 for his first full term as governor. He had $1.5 million cash on hand as of his last campaign filing earlier this month.
Closest to him in the money race is Catherine Templeton of Mount Pleasant, an attorney seeking her first publicly elected office after running two state agencies. She had $1.3 million available earlier this month.
The other declared candidate in the GOP field is former Democratic Sen. Yancey McGill of Kingstree, who left the chamber in 2014 after 26 years to fill a seven-month vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office. He had $12,000 available.