One of Sumter's representatives in the Statehouse was chosen on Wednesday for one of the most powerful positions in the state government.
Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, was elected without opposition by fellow committee members as the new chairman …
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Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, was elected without opposition by fellow committee members as the new chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, the group that writes the first draft of the state's $8 billion-plus budget. He is replacing Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, who was removed from the position by state Speaker Jay Lucas on claims of Republican unease with White's leadership and being able to carry out the party's agenda.
"I wish it was under different circumstances, but I'm honored he would ask me to serve," Smith said Wednesday.
The ways and means chairman can influence who does and does not get spending requests approved from state agencies, including state educational institutions.
Smith said he has not had time yet to determine specific budgeting priorities. He will be spending the next month appointing representatives to chair eight subcommittees, including the health care subcommittee that he has chaired since 2011 but has to step away from to chair the entire ways and means group.
"We need to make sure the committee is ready to begin its work on Jan. 8. Then we have budget hearings and deadline of March to have a budget to the Senate. So it's a short window," he said.
Committee reassignments are done by the speaker after House elections every two years, but surprises are not common. Changes are usually to put freshman legislators in committees and to promote veterans by seniority to upward vacancies.
White had been in charge of the committee since 2011, when he was appointed by the previous House Speaker Bobby Harrell, who resigned in 2014 after pleading guilty to spending campaign money for personal expenses.
Before Smith was voted in Wednesday, the last Sumterite to hold the position was R.J. Aycock in the '60s.
As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Smith will also sit on the State Fiscal Accountability Authority and the Joint Bond Review Committee, which review and approve expensive state projects, according to The Associated Press.
The Sumter lawyer, who was first elected to the House in 2001, also sits on the Ethics Committee with Rep. David Weeks, D-Sumter. He was elected to chair that committee on Tuesday, but he told his committee members he would have to resign from that position once session begins in January.
He sat on the House Judiciary Committee for eight years before joining ways and means in 2009 and served as the criminal laws subcommittee chairman for those final three years. He has served on the Commission of Indigent Defense since 2005 and has been a member of the South Carolina Military Base Task Force since 2009.
"I assume this chairmanship, but it's also the people of Sumter who have supported me over the years who have given me this opportunity," Smith said. "Of late, there has really been a lot of city and county government working well with the delegation. They make us successful over here in Columbia in the way they work with us."
He said legislators at the Statehouse don't often move up into leadership roles without support back home. He said after Lucas asked him to chair the committee that he spoke with Sumter's city manager and county administrator, thanking them for their support.
White was reassigned to the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee and did not get a leadership position.
The General Assembly starts a new session on Jan. 8 and runs through May 9.
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