It is almost exactly six months since Kevin Bryant was unexpectedly propelled into the lieutenant governor's position following Gov. Nikki Haley's appointment as U.N. ambassador, which moved then-Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster into the Governor's Mansion.
In a wide-ranging exchange with Palmetto Business Daily, Bryant, a 12-year state Senate veteran and conservative Republican, laid out his positions on business, tax, pensions, tort reform, and, crucially for him, regulatory reform.
Bryant, who hails from Anderson County and is a pharmacist by trade (he owns a pharmacy and medical supply company) argued that the top priorities facing South Carolina today are education, tax reform and reducing "burdensome laws and regulations."
On Being Lieutenant Governor
First elected to the state Senate in 2005, Bryant reflected on the differences between his former and current positions.
"As senator, I was honored to serve Anderson County but now as lieutenant governor, I suddenly represent the entire state," he said. "Clearly, my constituent base has changed and it is an honor to serve the approximate 5 million individuals who call South Carolina home. I recognize this shift, and I will diligently work to give everyone a voice."
In addition to being next in line of succession to the governor's office, under the state constitution, the lieutenant governor serves as the president of the state senate. In that role, Bryant is the presiding officer and can sometimes be called upon to make rulings that affect the outcome of the legislative body's votes and debates.
As lieutenant governor, Bryant also oversees the state's Office on Aging. His office also has an Advisory Council on Aging, which is chaired by Mark M. Smith, town council member in Mt. Pleasant.
Bryant said these duties have transformed his role from solely speaking for his own district and "sometimes creating chaos" in the legislative process to "now being solely responsible for keeping order and ensuring equal debate and discussion."
On Regulatory Reform
As a small business owner himself, Bryant said one of his key priorities is making sure South Carolina's small businesses land a "spot at the table."
This includes pushing for regulatory reform.
"Being a small business owner has shown me time and again that burdensome taxes and regulation kill small businesses and eliminate jobs," Bryant said. "I want to use my position as a statewide official to advocate for small business and the reforms they need in order to thrive."
Bryant said the current regulatory regime is so complex that state and federal agencies "often have difficulty understanding the laws themselves, let alone answering questions or giving guidance to the small businessman or entrepreneur that has to follow them."
On Tort Reform
South Carolina has long been a state with a reputation for a legal system that favors the plaintiffs' bar. The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) in 2015 ranked the state in the bottom third (36th out of 50) in terms of the state's "lawsuit climate," largely due to a rise in the rankings following Haley signing a comprehensive tort reform package in 2011.
ILR presented Haley with the organization's "State Leadership Award" following the enactment of that bill, but the group says more can be done to improve the state's lawsuit climate, including enacting legislation to provide more transparency in the state's asbestos bankruptcy trust system. States including Arizona, Wisconsin, West Virginia and Ohio have passed similar reform laws.
For his part, Bryant strongly supports further reforms.
"I enthusiastically support continuing tort reform, workers comp reform, and the curtailing of frivolous lawsuits," he said. "These actions help all our businesses, especially our small businesses who cannot afford to fight the plaintiffs' bar."
On the Gas Tax
During the most recent legislative session, the state legislature — overriding McMaster's veto — enacted a bill that would increase the state's gas tax by 2 cents per gallon each year for six years.
Like McMaster, Bryant says he is skeptical about what the increase in the state gas tax can achieve and is critical of the South Carolina Department of Transportation.
"The gas tax won't fix our roads," Bryant told Palmetto Business Daily. "The problem is that the SCDOT is like a football team with three head coaches and nine quarterbacks — no one can be held accountable when they lose."
And he added, "Instead, South Carolinians also lose. The roads won't get fixed until DOT is a cabinet agency with one figure of accountability to the taxpayer and voter — the governor."
On Pension Reform
Bryant served on the joint legislative committee that helped craft the pensions reform bill that was signed by the governor in late April.
"The bill will help, because it addresses the immediate funding need of the system and made improvements to the governance of the pension fund," he said.
But Bryant warned, "The bill does not completely solve the problem. I am pleased that the joint committee has embarked on phase two of reforming the pension system to modernize the benefits package. I believe that more of a 401(k)-style plan offers the best long-term solution."
Changes in How the Lieutenant Governor is Elected
Traditionally in South Carolina, the governor and lieutenant governor candidates run separately. Beginning in 2018, however, they will have to run on a joint ticket.
While McMaster has signaled his intention to run for election to a full term as governor, he has not made his 2018 electoral intentions clear. Some reports say he is considering a gubernatorial run.