When state Sen. Hugh Leatherman ran for governor in 1986, his slogan was "Leatherman Means Business." He lost that race but has since set up shop in the General Assembly as its most powerful legislator, perhaps in decades. Concentrating so much power in a single senator isn't exactly a model of representative government.
In June, Sen. Leatherman was elected Senate president pro tempore, and in that role he directs much of the Senate's business and largely determines the chamber's agenda.
But when he assumed that role, he didn't give up the most powerful committee assignment in the upper chamber. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, the Florence Republican has the opportunity to put his imprint on the state budget. And he gets a second bite of the apple as a member of the legislative conference committee that decides the budget's final form.
Sen. Leatherman also is vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, and as noted in Ron Brinson's column on today's Commentary page, state highway funding is of long-standing interest to the senator.
And it's not just as a member of that committee that Sen. Leatherman directs how highway funds are spent. He is also an appointee to the State Infrastructure Bank, which has grown in influence and authority since its creation as a financial instrument for large projects such as the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The SIB is now widely viewed as a shadow highway commission, with the power to make the call on major highway ventures, such as the controversial extension of I-526 across Johns Island.
Presumably he will leave that position, but it won't mean he will abandon the SIB. As Senate president pro tempore, he makes two appointments to that seven-member board.
The senator also is chairman of the state Budget and Control Board, which manages much of state government, at least for the next year. That five-member board, which includes the chairs of the legislative budget committees, the governor, the comptroller general and the treasurer, is in charge of personnel, property management, information technology, fleet management, procurement and more. Many of the board's current functions will go to the governor on July 1, 2015, under the state's newest Cabinet agency, the Department of Administration. Other functions, primarily procurement, will be taken over by the Fiscal Accountability Authority, of which Sen. Leatherman would be a member as head of the Finance Committee.
The senator also is chairman of the Joint Bond Review Committee, which determines which state building projects get funding. Those include projects for the wide-ranging public university system.
And he serves as chairman of the Salary and Performance Evaluation Committee, which determines compensation for agency heads. If Mr. Leatherman's other responsibilities weren't enough to command the compliance of high-ranking staff members, that position certainly should.
Some might say that all of these duties are too much for one man, especially a man who is 83 years old. But they would be mistaken if they think Sen. Leatherman isn't up to the task. There's been no apparent decline in his commitment to carry out his already broad responsibilities and to acquire more.
The question shouldn't be whether Mr. Leatherman can carry out his duties in these powerful, multiple roles, but whether so much authority should be concentrated in the hands of one individual - particularly one who isn't elected statewide.
"I think it's a good idea to have power dispersed," said Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, one of two senators to vote against Sen. Leatherman's election as president pro tempore. It's not good governance to give so much power to a single senator, Sen. Davis said.
Mr. Leatherman's ascendancy speaks to his seniority, his political acumen and his ability to get things done.
But the voters of South Carolina elect 46 senators to share that chamber's responsibilities in this legislatively dominated state. The rest of the Senate should shoulder more of the load. They shouldn't leave it to Sen. Leatherman to take care of what is clearly an inordinate amount of public business.
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