COLUMBIA — State lawmakers overwhelmingly elected Karen Leatherman, a daughter of Senate President Pro Tem Hugh Leatherman, to the Francis Marion University Board of Trustees on Wednesday.
Karen Leatherman, a 1980 alumni of the college, owns a fitness center in downtown Florence and wrapped up a four-year term on the nonprofit Florence Downtown Development Corporation last year. Leatherman served two of those years as chair of the 21-member board that works in partnership with the city of Florence to foster downtown revitalization.
Leatherman replaced incumbent Mary Finklea, a reverend at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church, who only served one term as an at-large trustee. She lost to Leatherman 126-11 in a General Assembly vote.
Hugh Leatherman, the Florence Republican who serves in an emeriti capacity on the 21-member board, abstained from voting. Trustees for several state institutions of higher education were elected by a joint session Wednesday.
Widely seen as the most powerful politician in the state, Leatherman has strong ties to the growing university in the heart of the Pee Dee. He has helped secure state match funding for several FMU projects, including a third of the $15.5 million Luther F. Carter Center for Health Sciences, named after the current university president. The building will house the nurse practitioner and physician assistant programs as well as third- and fourth-year University of South Carolina medical students beginning this fall.
Carter and Leatherman have a close friendship, including by raising and contributing money to the lawmaker — most recently $1,000 to his re-election campaign. The two also serve on the executive committee of the area’s economic development group, the North Eastern Strategic Alliance.