Powerful State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, was elected to become the Senate’s de facto leader on Wednesday, but it came after an opposing lawmaker accused him of staging a “well-orchestrated coup.”
Leatherman was elected as Senate President Pro Tempore by his fellow senators in a 44-2 vote, shortly after previous President Pro Tem Yancey McGill ascended to the lieutenant governor’s office Wednesday. Leatherman was unopposed in the race, but several members of his own party were clearly unhappy with how former President Pro Tem John Courson, R-Richland, lost the seat two weeks ago.
Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said before the vote that he believes Leatherman already has too much power as Senate Finance Committee chairman. Massey noted Leatherman also has prominent positions on the Joint Bond Review Committee, Transportation Infrastructure Bank, and the Budget & Control Board — all of which have control over different funding in South Carolina.
“The senator from Florence is already, clearly, the most powerful legislator in the Statehouse,” Massey said. “He may very well be the most powerful elected official in the state. And now we’re about to add to that.”
During a 30-minute speech on the Senate floor, Massey attacked Leatherman’s record on earmarks and “backroom deals,” saying he feared the Senate was going back to the “good old days” when only a few powerful legislators controlled the process.
But he also claimed Leatherman only came to the post as part of a “hit” on Courson, who resigned as Pro Tem earlier this month to avoid becoming lieutenant governor. Courson claimed at the time that he had been threatened by a possible lawsuit that would force him to become lieutenant governor if he did not step down. He did not run for his old post on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader previously hinted that Courson had been set up to punish him for not supporting a bill expanding the College of Charleston.
“I am convinced that this was a well-orchestrated coup. It was a hit,” Massey said.
Leatherman did not acknowledge the criticisms after the vote, but pledged to improve “decorum” in the chamber.
“We all are here for the betterment of the people of South Carolina,” he said on the Senate floor. “So let’s keep that in mind as we do the peoples’ work. I intend to be working with you to return some decorum to this body, continue to improve decorum.”
Massey and Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, were the two “no” votes against Leatherman.