Opinion

A former SCDOT leader took the wrong road — and it’s led him to prison

It says something about the hubris of John Hardee that in August, only hours after merely receiving probation for trying to thwart an FBI investigation into whether he’d accepted bribes, the former S.C. Department of Transportation board member broke the law again by offering money for sex with an undercover Richland County Sheriff’s deputy posing as a prostitute in an internet sting.

How much arrogance must be coursing through someone’s veins to do that?

For that alone Hardee deserved the seven-month sentence he received Wednesday from U.S. Judge Terry Wooten for violating the terms of his probation.

Hardee has earned all 213 days of that sentence, and he should serve all 18,000,000-plus seconds of it.

But what’s the real lesson to take from Hardee’s transformation from prominent and politically connected — he is the son-in-law of influential state Sen. Hugh Leatherman — to imprisoned and disgraced?

It’s another powerful reminder that serving the public is a character test far more than it is an occupation — and that public servants who lack true character will eventually have that deficiency exposed.

And so it has been with Hardee: in the end, his clout as a longtime major state transportation official couldn’t obscure his deficit of judgment in holding such power.

Recently in the wake of Hardee’s legal troubles, the state Department of Transportation changed the name of the airport-bound roadway that bore Hardee’s name — the John Hardee Expressway — to the “Columbia Airport Expressway.”

That’s only fitting.

Why?

Because whenever those who serve the public choose the road of compromising their character over the one guiding them toward maintaining it, they’re taking a road that will always lead to nowhere.

Or to the prison cell that’s now Hardee’s destination.

During Hardee’s initial hearing in August, several character witnesses spoke warmly of Hardee as a civic-oriented man who had helped many people over the years.

Hardee should use the next several months to find that path again.

The road to redemption, after all, is one that’s never totally closed.

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