New to politics, SC Lt. Gov. Evette reflects on 1st year

New to politics, SC Lt. Gov. Evette reflects on 1st year

Story by Meg Kinnard. Initially published by AP News on January 7, 2020.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It’s not a path she predicted during her decades founding and running a successful business. But, wrapping up her first year as South Carolina’s lieutenant governor, Pamela Evette said she’s energized by the progress she and Gov. Henry McMaster have made as the state’s first-ever jointly elected executive team.

“I have been so warmly received across the state,” Evette, 52, told The Associated Press of her time spent as McMaster’s emissary, particularly in South Carolina’s business community. “It’s just been amazing how … willing they are to sit down and share their thoughts and ideas with me.”

Evette’s efforts have relied heavily on her business acumen to forge partnerships she and McMaster hope will benefit the state.

It’s an approach the two initially laid out during the 2018 campaign where they handily defeated another male/female duo, Democratic State Representatives James Smith and Mandy Powers Norrell. The election, thanks to a change in South Carolina’s law, was the first in which hopefuls for governor and lieutenant governor could run on a joint ticket. Previously, separate campaigns for the state’s top two slots had at times yielded officeholders of differing parties and priorities, making for political stagnation.

“I think it just doubles our power to listen, learn, get the facts, understand things and present the message,” McMaster told the AP ahead of the 2018 general election.

Over the past year, Evette says that’s exactly what’s happened, her presence having doubled the potential footprint of the Governor’s Office in terms of the ability to hold meetings with various entities across the state. Starting with a summit focused on transportation, Evette said the year also included progress in strengthening technical schools so they can produce the talent needed in South Carolina’s growing manufacturing sector.

“Any time somebody stops at your company, tours around and sits across from you and asks, ‘what can we do for you?’ — that makes all the difference in the world,” she said.

In years past, South Carolina’s lieutenant governor was a part-time position, with much of the occupant’s time spent presiding over the state Senate. Starting with Evette, that duty has been removed, and while the job is technically still part-time, Evette has opted to devote her full efforts to the role, stepping away from the helm of her company and turning the leadership of Quality Business Solutions over to her husband, David.

Some of her duties, though, still involve dealing with lawmakers, with whom the state’s governors haven’t always had smooth relations — even when Republicans controlled both branches of government. McMaster’s two immediate predecessors, GOP Govs. Nikki Haley and Mark Sanford, both repeatedly feuded with Republican lawmakers on funding issues.

During his tenure, McMaster has made good on a promise to cooperate with lawmakers he felt were making good-faith efforts to work with him. Part of that work, the governor has noted, involves deploying Evette to forge relationships with lawmakers in both parties, a role she says she’s found less daunting than she’d feared.

“Another thing I’ve done this last year is really formulate great relationships with people in the House and in the Senate,” Evette said. “I think that’s really important — making sure that you don’t have somebody fighting against you all the time.”

Evette said that attitude led to achievements in education reform, which the administration and legislative leaders jointly presented as a top priority last year. 

“Over and over again, the common theme from the Legislature was, this was the first time we’ve had a governor’s office that is willing to work with us, in a long time,” she said. “We might not always agree on the same route to get there, but we’re very respectful of each other, and I think that’s important.”

Although she may not have envisioned herself in the world of politics, Evette seems well-positioned for the future. Despite rumors she might mount a bid to challenge her current boss — who, now 72, is the oldest person inaugurated as South Carolina’s governor — Evette told the AP she remains committed to running alongside the governor when he seeks a second full term in 2022, as his campaign says he will. But, she said, she’s leaving open the possibility of seeking the office — or even a higher one — for herself someday.

“I don’t know,” Evette told the AP. “I kind of just see, wherever God opens a door, maybe try to walk through it if it’s not too overwhelming, right? I would have never thought two years ago I’d be here as lieutenant governor today. But I’m really happy where I am right now, and really focused on being the best lieutenant governor I can be for the state of South Carolina. There’s a lot to do.”