COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday that while she’s looking for a conservative fighter to replace U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, no one would be as conservative as he is.
She also told reporters she periodically asks former first lady Jenny Sanford, who has been named as a finalist, for advice on her job performance.
The Republican governor has sole authority to appoint DeMint’s successor until voters pick one in 2014 to fulfill the final two years of his term. DeMint, a tea party favorite known to buck party leadership, announced last week he would resign Jan. 1 to lead the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
“There is no question that I’m looking for a conservative person to fill those shoes, but we are never going to find someone as conservative and staunch as Jim DeMint,” Haley told reporters after a Budget and Control Board meeting.
“What I do think we’ll find is someone who very much understands the state of South Carolina.”
Haley gave no indication of when she would choose DeMint’s successor. State law sets no timeline on her decision.
On Wednesday, state Rep. Rick Quinn pre-filed legislation that would require a special election for any future U.S. Senate vacancies. In a statement, the Republican said he felt voters should play more of a role in selecting someone to fill such an important office.
Haley has reportedly narrowed her choices to five. The list includes former first lady Jenny Sanford, who endorsed and campaigned with Haley during her 2010 four-way primary.
Haley said she has stayed in touch with Sanford since taking office.
A source close to the governor said Tuesday that the other four on Haley’s list are U.S. Reps. Tim Scott and Trey Gowdy, former two-term Attorney General Henry McMaster and Catherine Templeton, the director of the state’s public health and environmental control agency.
Haley declined to comment on other potential picks.
She said her decision process involved looking at candidates’ philosophical beliefs and determining how they would vote on upcoming decisions. She also wants to make sure they want to seek the office past her two-year appointment.
Haley has ruled out sending herself to Washington or running for the seat herself in 2014.
“With the fiscal cliff, with the debt issue, with everything we’re facing in state government, how are those people going to respond and how are they going to agree with what Jim DeMint would’ve done?” Haley asked. “And are they going to fight? We need some more fighters in Washington right now.”
Haley said political experience was not a factor.
“It’s not about time in office, which is the wrong way of looking at the government,” Haley said.
Gowdy and Scott were both re-elected last month to their second terms in Congress. Gowdy was formerly a solicitor. Before a single term in the state House, Scott was the Charleston County Council chairman. McMaster was the state GOP chairman before voters elected him attorney general.
Though Jenny Sanford has never been in elected office herself, she ran her ex-husband’s campaigns and was known to be his chief political consultant.
Templeton was an attorney specializing in fighting labor unions before Haley picked her to run the state’s labor and licensing agency. With Haley’s blessing, Templeton was then chosen in February to lead the much larger Department of Health and Environmental Control.