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SC gov hopeful Templeton picks prosecutor as running mate

COLUMBIA (AP) In picking a longtime prosecutor for her running mate, a Republican challenging South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said May 21 that she’s creating a partnership to tackle the state’s two top problems: crime and corruption.

“My wheelhouse is getting rid of the regulations and understanding a lot about business and operations,” Catherine Templeton told The Associated Press of her choice of Solicitor Walt Wilkins for lieutenant governor. “Walt’s wheelhouse is all of the very important things that keep us safe in South Carolina, and we’re going to work in partnership on those two things.”

In their first joint interview, ahead of an official announcement and planned statewide tour May 22, Templeton and Wilkins outlined a strategy that envisions Wilkins acting as a “corruption and crime czar.” Templeton said she’d task the longtime state and federal prosecutor with eliminating redundancies and finding efficiencies in state agencies such as corrections, juvenile justice and the State Law Enforcement Division.

“How about we make the lieutenant governor a partnership?” Templeton asked. “We’re going to divide and conquer and make the executive branch functioning and providing safety that the citizens of South Carolina deserve.”

This year is the first in which South Carolina voters will select the state’s top two executives as part of the same ticket. South Carolina’s primary elections are June 12, and Templeton is one of four Republicans challenging McMaster for the party’s nomination.

Templeton, former chief of the state’s labor and public health departments, said she met her running mate when they were undergraduates at Wofford College, and that they both later attended the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Wilkins, 44, served several years as an assistant federal prosecutor before President George W. Bush picked him as South Carolina’s U.S. Attorney in 2008. In that role, he oversaw all federal cases in the state, focusing on violent crime and drug prosecutions and supervising an immigration case that resulted in more than 300 deportations and $1.5 million in fines against a chicken processing company.

Since 2010, he has been the top prosecutor for Greenville and Pickens counties, where he oversees dozens of attorneys who prosecute thousands of cases each year. In 2011, then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed him to the Prosecution Coordination Commission, the governing body of the state’s solicitors. Wilkins said May 21 that he will stay in office during the campaign, as did former prosecutor Trey Gowdy while he campaigned for the U.S. House in 2010.

Wilkins comes from a family of public servants. His father, William W. Wilkins, is a former chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. David Wilkins, his uncle, is a former U.S. ambassador to Canada and also served as speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

If elected, Templeton said she also would put Wilkins in charge of rooting out corruption in state government, a job for which she said his years as a prosecutor more than qualify him.

“He doesn’t owe anybody anything,” Templeton said. “Walt is the law-and-order candidate who can come in and actually crush public corruption.”

Wilkins said he looks forward to hitting the campaign trail, and to bringing what he sees as much-needed reform to state politics.

“Maybe we bring a little bit of honesty and integrity to the political system in South Carolina and really start working for the people and not for ourselves,” he said. “The system as a whole has gotten a little embedded with some bad apples.”

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