S.C. Senate President Pro Tem Hugh K. Leatherman is a main reason ethics legislation has not progressed in the General Assembly, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley told a crowd of community and business leaders Thursday.
“In your area the people who voted to strip independent investigations and keep their eyes over what was happening were Senator Kevin Johnson (D-Clarendon), Senator Ronnie Sabb (D-Williamsburg), Sen. Kent Williams (D-Marion), all led by Sen. Hugh Leatherman (R-Florence),” Haley said to a silent crowd. “At some point it’s got to stop.”
Leatherman and other local legislators were not among the 500 attendees in the Florence Civic Center who came to hear Haley’s keynote address at the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s spring outlook luncheon. Leatherman was not available for comment immediately after the governor’s talk.
The governor said the jab at the Senate wasn’t personal but educational so the public is aware.
However, Mayor Stephen J. Wukela, a Democrat, who was on stage with Haley during the event, later called her remarks self-serving as she looks to promote a personal agenda in her final term, something House Democrats have been hammering as well.
“I wasn’t very pleased; I didn’t appreciate her comments about Chairman Leatherman,” Wukela said. “If the governor truly had an interest in moving this state forward and getting legislation passed, she’s not going about it in a very practical way.
“If on the other hand her interest is making a name for herself nationally and trying to make headlines then I think she’s doing very well, but that’s not really her job or purpose.”
In a meeting with reporters following her speech, which covered issues addressed in her State of the State address like road funding, rural education advancement and economic development, Haley identified just Leatherman, not other Pee Dee senators, as the obstruction to ethics reform.
“We have pushed for ethics reform for a long time. It has been stopped by Sen. Hugh Leatherman time and time again,” Haley said. “We’re going to continue to push ethics, but it leaks over into everything else like seeing half a billion in debt and bonds and all done in secrecy. It is a cloak of secrecy as long as we don’t have ethics reform.”
The strong stance is reminiscent of her inaugural address in January when she sharply asked legislators for substantial ethics reform. Now it appears that Haley is calling out key legislators, even in their own backyards, over the issue.
James Tolston, owner, president and CEO of North American Assemblies LLC, which operates a plant in Timmonsville, said he didn’t think the event was the right place for Haley to single out Leatherman but did agree with her stance on a $500 million bond package, or “wish list” as she put it, before legislators this week.
“If you have the funding in your coffers you spend that first before you go out and borrow $500 million, ’cause you’re paying interest on that,” Tolston said. “Everybody pays for that, so why do it now? If you have money to fund and create your own programs, there’s no reason to borrow money; you create an even bigger surplus by not borrowing money.”
The House bond bill covered a variety of legislative pork projects that members later considered reducing to $275 million Wednesday. But hours after Haley’s speech in Florence, members voted 69-44 to kill the bill entirely.
Leatherman wasn’t the only Pee Dee politician that Haley chastised this week.
In a Facebook post on Monday, she called out House Speaker Jay Lucas (R-Darlington) for conducting unanimous consent votes on routine sections of the budget as technical problems prevented legislators from holding roll-call votes on the electronic voting system.
“Speaker Lucas is a friend and I like Speaker Lucas,” Haley said. “But at the same time when I see a policy going in the wrong direction I’m going to call you out for it and this is not the leadership we want to see.”
Switching to economic development advancement, Haley told the press that unionization worries are still a roadblock for major advancement in the Pee Dee. Several major corporations like Otis Elevator, Ruiz Foods, Roche Carolina, GE, and others call Florence home and more jobs are coming, Haley said, but a big deterrent is the threat of unionization.
“The issue that has hurt the Pee Dee in the past that kind of still lingers that we’re trying to get rid of is that things were unionized here not too long ago,” Haley said. “So manufacturers are fearful of this area. We have tried to tell them that that is not the label we want the Pee Dee to have and we don’t think it’s a realistic situation.”
Haley even said that the threat has prevented deals from closing.
“Florence is going to have more jobs coming, but we do have to get that cloud of the unionization off of it before we can see anything happen,” Haley said. “It’s not politics-- it’s definitely unionization that’s there and I think our goal is we’ve come close a few times and that’s just a fear that seems to come into play when it happens.”