By ROBERT MEYEROWITZ
Same as the old boss
In the course of several minutes Wednesday afternoon, while normal South Carolinians were eating their lunches or petting their pets or just doing their jobs, state senator Hugh Leatherman was the senate president pro tempore, the most powerful state position, and then he wasn’t, and then he was again.
It’s a job that was worth holding onto.
The senate president pro tem appoints members to the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank, which distributes hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars for road projects. Leatherman, the senator from Florence, appoints himself to it.
“From the start of 2010 through March of this year, the Infrastructure Bank made a total of 642 payments to Florence County … which represented nearly 19 percent of the total 3,413 total payments made by the bank during the period,” The Nerve found in a 2015 report. “No other public agency or private company or individual came close to the number of payments made to Florence County.”
The state of South Carolina has been very generous over the years to Leatherman — so begins a 2013 Nerve report by Rick Brundrett, which goes on to detail more than $30 million in state funding that flowed from the Department of Transportation to Leatherman’s company, Florence Concrete products. Leatherman chairs the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee, which holds sway over DOT’s budget.
And you know those blue SC highway signs that display business logos near exits?
They belong to South Carolina Logos Inc., a subsidiary of Lamar Advertising. The director of governmental affairs at Lamar’s Columbia office is John Hardee, who is also a DOT commissioner — and Leatherman’s son-in-law.
Perhaps not altogether coincidentally, Leatherman, his wife, Jean, and associated LLCs have owned more than $2 million of real estate in Florence County that went officially undisclosed.
What’s more, Leatherman’s Florence concrete company has operated as a “disadvantaged business enterprise,” a designation designed to assist minority businesses “at a social and economic disadvantage” by requiring that 10 percent of all federal contracts through the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration, and Federal Transit Administration go to contractors and businesses certified as DBEs.
“Since March 1, 2012, when Leatherman’s company first obtained DBE status by virtue of having a female president, Florence Concrete has received $1.9 million in funds that otherwise would have gone to minority businesses more fully meeting the spirit, not just the letter, of the DBE program,” The Nerve found in 2015.
So it’s no surprise that Leatherman only momentarily resigned his presidency yesterday. He did it to avoid having to ascend to the vacated lieutenant governor’s office, a much less powerful position — and then, as the senate voted, 28-16, to make him president pro tem for the second time in a month, it was back to business as usual.