Meet the immortal Senate leader, Hugh Leatherman. The state’s most powerful politician, he survived on Wednesday an attempt to end his reign as top senator.
After stepping down as Senate president pro tem this week to avoid becoming lt. governor, the Florence Republican was nominated president pro tem and won 28 to 16. All 16 were Republicans who voted for former Senate majority leader, Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney. Ten Republicans voted for Leatherman.
Just what is it about the seat of state Senate president pro tem that makes it too irresistible to forfeit?
In addition to leading the Senate, the president pro tem controls—or has controlled—an abundance of appointments to a variety of boards and commissions.
Attaining the leadership post—a position Leatherman has held since 2014—is likely the crowning achievement in his political regalia.
Leatherman chairs the Joint Bond Review Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. He holds seats on the State Infrastructure Bank and the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, in addition to the roughly half dozen other committees he serves or has served on.
The Senate leader presides over and influences bodies that control the flow of tax dollars, infrastructure and debt throughout the state.
Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, who nominated Peeler, opposed Leatherman because he thought it would mean giving too much power to one individual.
The Edgefield Republican called the process a “shameless and obvious game of musical chairs.” He played a speech by former Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell, who abdicated his role as president pro tem to become lt. governor and fulfill his oath of office in 2012.
Leatherman has said he would remain in the Senate to fulfill his commitment to his constituents, who elected him. But refusing to seek the nomination for president pro tem would not have prevented him from doing so.
McConnell’s successor, Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, also quit the leadership post in 2014 to avoid having to become lt. governor.
But this precedent is about more than the state’s top Senate seat or the value of the lt. governor’s office.
It’s about a refusal to surrender power and the stranglehold the political class have on it.
It’s about the process.
Senators Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, and Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, abstained on Wednesday from voting for then-Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, to become lt. governor and recorded the following statement in the Senate journal—
“Our abstention is not in any way a comment on the ability of Senator BRYANT to discharge the duties of Senate PRESIDENT Pro Tempore or Lieutenant Governor, as we believe without reservation he is eminently qualified to discharge the duties of both offices; rather, it is intended to make clear our unwillingness to participate in an arranged procedure that allows the immediately previous Senate PRESIDENT Pro Tempore, Senator HUGH K. LEATHERMAN, SR., to enjoy the powers and rights inherent in that office, yet avoid the discharge of the essential constitutional duty that goes along with enjoying those rights and powers.”
Davis asked the Supreme Court to clarify when a change in the law, slated for 2018, would take effect allowing the governor to choose a lt. governor. The court ruled earlier this month the change wouldn’t take effect until 2018, meaning the president pro tem would be required to fill a vacancy in the lt. governor’s office.
Davis and Massey also were the only two who voted against Leatherman for president pro tem in 2014.