The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to thebuzz@thestate.com.

New SC Senate leader plans to keep board members in their posts

07/19/2014 7:43 PM

07/19/2014 10:44 PM

State Senate leader Hugh Leatherman says he does not believe in change for change’s sake.

So when the terms of about 10 board and commission members, appointed by the Senate president pro tempore, expire by year’s end, Leatherman says he is likely to reappoint them — if they have done a good job.

Leatherman’s new position as Senate president pro tem includes the ability to appoint senators and members of the public to roughly 40 boards and commissions.

Those panels have the ability to invest and control state money, help preserve state history and even study medical marijuana. Leatherman’s power to make appointments, critics say, is evidence of the outsized influence lawmakers have in state where the legislators are dominant and the governor has limited powers.

Leatherman, the Florence Republican who was elected president pro tem last month, already has made a few decisions.

Leatherman can make three appointments to the Medical Marijuana Study Committee, created this year, and has decided on two of them. He said he plans to appoint state Sens. Tom Davis, a Beaufort Republican, and Brad Hutto, an Orangeburg Democrat who is running for the U.S. Senate, because they have both expressed interest.

In addition, the term of a member on the Education Oversight Committee expired June 30. Leatherman said he will keep Charleston lawyer Neil Robinson in the position because he is doing a good job.

“He has an interest in it,” Leatherman said.

The roughly 40 boards and commissions to which Senate leader Leatherman can make appointments mirror most of the panels where House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, also makes appointments.

For example, Leatherman and Harrell make two appointments each to the Transportation Infrastructure Bank board, which makes loans, issues bonds and signs contracts for major transportation projects.

There are some exceptions.

Leatherman has two more appointments than Harrell on the Public Employee Benefits Authority board, which oversees the retirement and insurance systems for public workers. He has two appointments as Senate president pro tempore and another two because he also is Senate Finance Committee chairman.

Also, Harrell can make appointments to 10 more boards than Leatherman can, including the Holocaust Council, State House Committee and Nuclear Advisory Council.

Leatherman’s growing power over appointments ranges from deciding how state money is spent to how South Carolina’s history is preserved, said University of South Carolina political scientist Mark Tompkins.

“In some cases, like the Judicial Merit Commission, we’re hoping for good government appointees who will select the best judges,” Tompkins said. He added that the commission, which screens applicants to be judges and determines whether those candidates are qualified, is the most important part of the legislative process that elects S.C. judges.

Leatherman’s appointment powers also point to a larger issue in South Carolina, Tompkins said.

“The fact that we use legislators for this so much is one of the things that concerns us all because legislators, after all, don’t get elected statewide,” he said.

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A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to thebuzz@thestate.com. Follow The Buzz @buzzatthestate. Follow Cassie @cassielcope. Follow Jamie @jamiemself. Follow Andy @andyshain.

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