COLUMBIA, SC — Sen. Hugh Leatherman, a Florence Republican who chairs the budget-writing committee, was elected president pro tempore despite fireworks from a junior senator who accused the Senate of participating in a "hit" on a fellow leader.
After complimentary nomination speech from Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said giving the finance committee chairman more power is dangerous.
He objected to giving the Senate leadership post to any finance or judiciary chairman, saying that would be too much like the old days of the Senate where influence was held by a few senators.
"This is a step backward for us trying to modernize and reform state government," Massey said. "This is not personal."
But the two-term senator went on to say that Leatherman has fought efforts to modernize government. Massey said he was tired of secret budget deals, such as the one crafted this year by Leatherman and House Ways and Means Chairman Brian White, R-Anderson.
"No one know what's in the budget except (Leatherman)," he said of the senator who has served since 1981.
Massey added that the moves leading to Leatherman’s nomination were part of “a hit” on Sen. John Courson, the former president pro tempore.
The Richland Republican resigned as president pro tempore two weeks ago to avoid automatically becoming lieutenant governor after Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said he would resign in a matter of days.
McConnell changed his mind after Courson stepped aside to avoid a Constitutional crisis. A lieutenant governor must ratify bills approved by the General Assembly before they go to the governor. McConnell resigned Wednesday after Sen. Yancey McGill, D-Williamsburg, decided to be interim lieutenant governor.
Massey said McConnell and Leatherman were working together to oust Courson after he fought their efforts to fast-track a bill that would make the College of Charleston a research university. McConnell will become the president of College of Charleston next month.
"I think we're accessories to a hit," Massey said.
The Senate voted 42-2 to elect Leatherman as president pro tempore. Massey and Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, cast the only dissenting votes.
Leatherman, speaking after he was sworn in, said he would work with all senators.
"I promise to be fair," he said.