COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Rep. Tim Scott to the U.S. Senate on Monday, making him the South's first black Republican senator since Reconstruction in a state whose politics is steeped in the history of slavery and Civil War.
"It speaks to the evolution of South Carolina and our nation," Scott, 47, said of his appointment to fill the seat vacated by Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative who reigned his post with four years left in his second term to head a right-leaning think tank.
Haley, a daughter of Indian immigrants who became South Carolina's first female and minority governor in 2010, acknowledged making history with her appointment, but she stressed that she picked Scott for his conservative values.
"He earned this seat for what I know he's going to do in making South Carolina and our country proud," she said.
Scott, 47, will be sworn in Jan. 3. Senate Republicans welcomed the appointment, which comes more than a month after Republicans' poor performance with minorities in the election forced soul-searching in the party to broaden its appeal.
He'll become only the fourth black Republican in Senate history and the only black Republican in Congress, after Rep. Allen West of Florida lost his re-election bid last month.
"This is truly an historic moment for the Palmetto State from a governor who's broken more than a few barriers in her own career," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of two Hispanics in the Senate, called Scott "a passionate, thoughtful and sincere advocate for the people of South Carolina and for limited government principles."
Scott is certain to be front and center when Republicans talk about fiscal matters and other issues vital to the conservative base. It remains to be seen what committee assignments he will get. He had served on the House Rules Committee.
Scott's selection culminates a fast rise through South Carolina politics. Just four years ago, he was chairman of the Charleston County Council. The 2008 election made him the first black Republican in the South Carolina Legislature in more than a century, and in 2010, he won his seat in the U.S. House from his conservative coastal district with 65 percent of the vote.
Outside the Statehouse where Scott spoke, a statue still stands of post-Reconstruction former governor and U.S. senator Ben Tillman, who unapologetically advocated lynching any black who tried to vote. Another statue depicts the late Strom Thurmond, who still holds a record for a 24-hour filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
But Scott has never dwelled on his race.