Remembering the life and legacy of State Senator Hugh Leatherman

South Carolina News

FILE – In this Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017 file photo, Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, listens to a speaker during the first day of legislative session at the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, S.C. State Sen. Hugh Leatherman, South Carolina’s oldest and most powerful state lawmaker, is currently receiving hospice care after the discovery of an inoperable cancer, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021.(AP Photo/Sean Rayford, File)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- State Senator, who was a powerful figure in South Carolina lawmaking, died Friday in his home in Florence, S.C. He was 90.

A state senator for 41 years, Leatherman was currently serving his 11th term in the South Carolina legislature. He represented District 31 in Florence and Darlington Counties and he controlled the state’s budget as Senate Finance Committee Chairman.

The Democrat-turned-Republican began his political career as a town councilman in Quinby, S.C. in 1967. He then served as Mayor pro tempore for Quinby from 1971-1976.

In 1981, Leatherman was elected to the S.C. Senate and quickly became a force in state politics. He mounted an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid in 1986 but continued to serve in the Senate where he was a champion for growth in Florence County.

Leatherman switch parties in 1994 in what was dubbed the “Republican Revolution.” Soon after, he established and led the Senate Republican Caucus.

Fast forward to 2001 and Leatherman became the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in which he effectively controlled the state’s budget. This catapulted him to become one of the most powerful figures in South Carolina politics.

Leatherman was known as a champion of infrastructure and oversaw numerous growth projects in the state of South Carolina. He was instrumental in bringing Boeing to South Carolina in 2009 with a $450 million tax incentive program. In addition, he is credited with being instrumental in the attraction of Honda to Timmonsville, S.C., and for securing funding for roads that lead to Myrtle Beach.

He oversaw significant development in the Pee Dee region, including in his home district of Florence. Florence saw the creation of a $17 million library, an arts center, and a county museum in its downtown area under Leatherman’s leadership in the Senate.

Leatherman occasionally clashed with Republican leadership, including former Governors Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley, with Haley even endorsing his opponent in the 2016 Republican primary.

When Nikki Haley was sworn in by former President Donald Trump as Ambassador to the United Nations and Henry McMaster became governor in early 2017, Leatherman resigned from his leadership position in the state Senate to avoid becoming Lieutenant Governor. A few days later, he was reinstated as President Pro Tempore and retained his power in the state government.

In late 2018, Leatherman’s grip on the Senate loosened when voters decided to abolish the position of President Pro Tempore and replace it with a President chosen by the Senate. This meant Leatherman could no longer serve as Senate Finance Chairman and Senate President. In honor of his many years of service, the Senate passed a resolution to give him the honorary title of President Pro Tempore Emeritus.

Leatherman’s legacy lives on right here in the Lowcountry with the opening of the SC Ports’ Hugh K. Leatherman Terminal along the Cooper River in North Charleston in March 2021. The terminal is the country’s first container terminal to open in over a decade and marked one of the largest economic development projects in South Carolina’s history.

Leatherman is survived by his wife Jean and their six children.

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