COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster took the oath of office Wednesday for his first full term, pledging commitments to economic prosperity and education advances in an address that marked the culmination of years of work to win the office in his own right.
"We know that our success in today's worldwide economic competition depends on our intellectual capacity, training, research and development, knowledge, innovation and imagination," McMaster told a crowd assembled on the South side of the Statehouse in Columbia. "That is why South Carolina's commitment to education must be second to none in the United States, and we will see that that is a fact, a reality."
McMaster has held the state's top office since early 2017, when the then-lieutenant governor was hastily sworn in following the resignation of Nikki Haley to join the Trump administration as U.N. ambassador. In November, he defeated Democratic state Rep. James Smith, cementing his own claim to a full, four-year term.
The election last fall was the first in which South Carolinians chose a governor and lieutenant governor on a shared ticket. Also Wednesday, Upstate businesswoman Pamela Evette became the second woman to assume the state's second-highest office and the first Republican woman to do so.
McMaster, 71, is a fixture in South Carolina's political circles, serving two terms as South Carolina's attorney general and previously leading the state's Republican Party. He lost a previous gubernatorial bid, coming in third in a four-way GOP primary in 2010 to Haley.
In a sweeping inaugural speech sprinkled with sports metaphors, McMaster said economic competition is one constant in human history and he plans to keep South Carolina competitive through low taxes, determined recruitment of new businesses and a renewed focus on education — which has received a significant amount of attention in recent months.
"We must compete. We must win," McMaster said. "This is our time. South Carolina is winning. And we will keep winning."
Before every living South Carolina governor from former U.S. Education Secretary Dick Riley to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, McMaster said that South Carolina has the talent and the ability to keep booming. The state now has more than 5 million people — 2 million more than when his life in public service started as U.S. attorney in 1981.
"I see before us the brightest of futures. But we must think big, have confidence and be bold. We will do things we have not done before. And we will succeed," McMaster said.
Although his position allowed him the mantle of running as an incumbent, McMaster drew four Republican challengers in the primary and was forced into a runoff where he ultimately defeated businessman John Warren of Greenville.
McMaster supported Donald Trump when few other Republicans would dare stick their necks out, becoming the first statewide-elected official to endorse the businessman's presidential bid in 2016.
At the time, the move surprised many of McMaster's allies and friends in South Carolina's GOP establishment. But his wager paid dividends when Trump picked Haley for his Cabinet, enabling McMaster to ascend to the governor's office. In his address Wednesday, McMaster took veiled opposition to the Trump administration's proposals to expand drilling off the Atlantic Coast, saying, "I will firmly stand against all efforts to endanger the future of our pristine coastline."
Earlier this week, McMaster voiced support for state Attorney General Alan Wilson's decision to join a federal lawsuit opposing the administration on drilling.
McMaster took the oath of office on the Statehouse steps in Columbia under brilliant blue skies. Other events for the day include a prayer service at First Presbyterian Church, where McMaster regularly attends, as well as a Governor's Mansion open house and an evening inaugural ball at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.
All official events except the ball are open to the public.