1. Rep. James Smith (D-Columbia)
For obvious reasons, all eyes are on Rep. James Smith, the presumed Democratic nominee for Governor. As one of the few members of the legislature not to vote for the Base Load Review Act, Smith has more credibility than most to deal with the issues facing the failed nuclear expansion project and SCANA's intended merger with Dominion Energy. Another thing to watch is how involved Smith will be in the day-to-day duties of the legislature. He has always been one of the most active members on the floor of the House but running for statewide office, and the responsibilities that come with it, demands lots of time outside of the chamber. If anyone can handle both, it's James Smith. Look for Smith to use this legislative session to give voters a look at his priorities and natural leadership abilities.
2. Rep. Gary Clary (R-Clemson)
Rep. Gary Clary is well-known for being one of the few mavericks in the House Republican Caucus. He doesn't shy away from his criticisms of Donald Trump and the more ultra-conservative wing of his party. He is one of the few remaining moderates in the GOP and that makes him a very interesting figure at the state house. He is principled yet pragmatically unpredictable. He's not afraid to be on an island by himself on an issue and the former judge can't be bullied like most new(ish) legislators. He is leading the way on the GOP side to reform the redistricting process in South Carolina along with Democratic Rep. Laurie Funderburk. Few people are more respected than Rep. Clary and that gives his redistricting bill instant credibility. If he pushes hard for this bill to move forward, it will be hard for leadership to say no.
3. Rep. Leon Stavrinakis (D-Charleston)
Along with Rep. Peter McCoy, Charleston Rep. Leon Stavrinakis has established himself as one of the fiercest critics of SCANA's failed nuclear expansion project. The legislature's most bipartisan member has filed a series of bills that would ban gifts, trips and political contributions from regulated utility companies to members of the Public Service Commission or candidates for the legislature. Look for him to take a very public role in the SCANA-Dominion merger and any new VC Summer legislation this year. He also has a bill that would ban offshore drilling in South Carolina. Thanks to the Trump Administration's recent decision to open up the SC coast to drilling, Stavrinakis' bipartisan bill has a better shot of passing in 2018 than ever before.
4. Rep. Peter McCoy (R-Charleston)
The chairman of the special House committee investigating the VC Summer collapse will be the person to watch as state lawmakers decide how to move forward on the failed project. The Charleston Republican has been at the forefront of solving the nuclear debacle since being named chairman of the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee last year. McCoy will also be influential in the fate of the proposed merger between SCANA and Dominion Energy. Another reason to keep an eye on McCoy this session is the fact that he is a finalist to be the United States Attorney for South Carolina. No one really knows where things stand in the process, but most agree McCoy is the heavy favorite. U.S. Attorneys must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate so even if he is nominated, he could very well serve out the remainder of his term in 2018.
5. Sen. Mia McLeod (D-Columbia)
The newest Senator from Richland County is entering her second year in the deliberate body. And with a year under her belt, look for her to continue doing what she did in the House for several years - speak up. In the midst of the #MeToo movement, the longtime champion for women's issues will be one of the leading voices in Columbia tackling hot-button issues in 2018 like pay equity, sexual harassment and violence against women. And unlike most freshman legislators, McLeod won't sit idly by if the VC Summer issue begins to take a turn for the worst for ratepayers. For good reason, people listen when Mia McLeod speaks as she is one of the legislature's only true whistle blowers. She isn't afraid to piss off the establishment and she won't be silenced. And that's what makes her so much fun to watch.