SC House unanimously elects next speaker

Published: Apr. 28, 2022 at 11:27 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 28, 2022 at 6:28 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Members of the South Carolina House of Representatives elected Rep. Murrell Smith, R - Sumter, to serve as their next Speaker on Thursday in a unanimous vote.

Smith has served in the House since 2001 and, until Thursday morning, chaired the powerful, budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, a position he would not be able to hold while also serving as Speaker.

Smith, who works as an attorney outside the State House, pledged an open door and open ear to his colleagues while addressing them following his unopposed election.

“I believe this body should operate with a spirit of collaboration and collegiality but, most importantly, with mutual respect for all,” he said.

He replaces current Speaker Jay Lucas, R - Darlington, who officially nominated Smith to succeed him and who is not seeking re-election this year for the House seat he has held since 1999. Lucas has led the House in his role as Speaker since 2014.

“Our peers include a diverse collection of extraordinary public servants representing all these state’s citizens, and Murrell has truly distinguished himself in this body as a first among equals,” Lucas said.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D – Richland, pointed to representatives coming to an agreement on this year’s budget in just one day under Smith’s leadership — an unusually efficient speed — as an indicator of how he will lead the chamber.

“It speaks volumes to his leadership and speaks volumes to what he’s going to be able to do in the future,” Rutherford said.

In his new role, Smith will set the agenda for the House and assign members and bills to committees, influencing which legislation has a more favorable path to becoming law and which does not.

But the Speaker-elect said his new title is nowhere near as important to him as what gets accomplished in this position.

“The work we do for this institution, the work we’re going to do together is what really matters,” he told colleagues.

Smith’s election represents a continuation from Lucas of a Republican from a rural part of the state leading the chamber.

But he pledged to represent all South Carolinians in this new role, regardless of their party or where they live.

“It gives a voice in rural South Carolina, and that’s very important, and that’s what I hope to continue to do,” Smith told reporters after the election. “But also I recognize that I don’t just represent rural South Carolina. I don’t just represent Sumter County anymore.”

Smith said he does not plan to look ahead to priorities for the next legislative session until this one wraps up, saying his focus remains right now on work that has not been completed yet, including the state budget, which passed the Senate around the same time as his election Thursday.

Currently serving as Speaker-elect for the next two weeks, Smith will officially take over the Speaker role at 5:01 p.m. on May 12, the last day of this year’s regular legislative session.

Smith, who is running unopposed for his House seat this year, would need to be re-elected to the speakership after the November general election to retain the position for the 2023 legislative session.

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