Leatherman’s Long Reach as Senate President Pro Tem

July 29, 2015

Investigative Reports

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By RICK BRUNDRETT

leatherman

Hard to see how ‘accountability’ applies to this lawmaker

When Hugh Leatherman was elected in June 2014 as the Senate president pro tempore – making him leader of the 46-member chamber – he got more than a nice new title.

He acquired even more power.

The Florence County Republican, who was first elected to the Senate in 1980, has long held the title of Senate Finance Committee chairman, which has allowed to him to serve on, by virtue of his position, or make appointments to at least 17 state boards, commissions or committees in recent years, based on a review by The Nerve of records at the S.C. Secretary of State’s Office and research by the South Carolina Policy Council – The Nerve’s parent organization.

He automatically, for example, is a member of the five-member governing panel of the newly enacted State Fiscal Accountability Authority (SFAA) – formerly known as the Budget and Control Board – because of his position as the Senate Finance chairman. Among other things, the SFAA will be able to authorize the sale of state bonds for building projects, approve large purchases and sales of real property by state agencies, and manage state procurement services. Leatherman also serves as the Joint Bond Review Committee chairman.

As Senate president pro tempore, Leatherman can serve on or appoint members to at least 29 state boards, commissions or committees, including 20 panels that aren’t listed in state records as being related to his chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee, The Nerve’s review found.

Secretary of State records list a total of 64 current board, commission or committee positions connected to the Senate president pro tempore compared to a collective 27 seats related to the Senate Finance chairman, The Nerve’s review found. Most of the appointees by the Senate president pro tempore were named by Leatherman’s predecessors, Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, and former Sen. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston and currently the College of Charleston president, though Leatherman will have the opportunity to appoint new members as vacancies occur if he continues in his position.

As the duly-elected leader of the Senate, Leatherman can exert his will through his appointment powers involving important state panels, including, for example, the Education Oversight Committee, Housing Commission, Lottery Commission, Review and Oversight Commission of the S.C. Ports Authority, and the Public Employee Benefit Authority.

When he became Senate president pro tempore, Leatherman, who already was a member of the State Transportation Infrastructure Bank Board – which critics contend has funneled or committed several billion dollars collectively over the years for transportation projects in select counties, including Leatherman’s home county – gained appointment power over two of the board’s seven seats.

He also acquired appointment power over two more seats on the 10-member Joint Transportation Review Committee (JTRC), which nominates candidates to S.C Department of Transportation Commission, including Leatherman’s son-in-law, John Hardee, as The Nerve reported earlier this year. Given that he automatically serves on the JTRC as the Senate Finance chairman, Leatherman, as Senate president pro tempore, can effectively control the committee’s Senate members.

Besides state transportation projects, Leatherman, who also is a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, already exerts authority over the state court system as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which recommends annual budgets for the Judicial Department. As Senate president pro tempore, he can appoint two of the 10 members of the state Judicial Merit Selection Commission, which nominates judicial candidates for election by the General Assembly.

Those elections include the S.C. Supreme Court, which received formal requests from Leatherman this month asking to join other respondents in two separate petitions that call on the top court to declare part of the new state budget and a section of existing state law unconstitutional dealing with the appointment of the head of DOT.

The not-for-profit South Carolina Public Interest Foundation, based in Greenville, and its leader, Edward “Ned” Sloan, named Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, in his role as the Senate president, as one of the parties, though not Leatherman. In his written request to join the case, Leatherman contends that while McMaster presides over the Senate during session weeks, he doesn’t speak for the chamber, noting the lieutenant governor is “not an elected member of the body, and instead is a member of the Executive Department.”

“President Pro Tempore Leatherman, as leader and on behalf of the Senate, will assert that the legislative actions were constitutional,” according to a memorandum supporting his motion to intervene in the case.

As has been his longstanding practice with The Nerve, Leatherman did not respond Tuesday to a written message seeking comment.

Jamie Murguia, director of research at the South Carolina Policy Council, contributed to this story. Reach Brundrett at (803) 254-4411 or rick@thenerve.org. Follow him on Twitter@thenerve_rick. Follow The Nerve on Facebook and Twitter @thenervesc.