Column: Keeping up traditions in the S.C. legislature
The late S.C. Gov. Carroll Campbell, who is iconic for making South Carolina competitive in the world economy for new jobs and investment, summed up the role of state government succinctly. “Our duty is to improve the quality of life and give every person the opportunity to get a good education and good job,” he said on many occasions.
Campbell, who was my idol and only the second Republican governor in modern history, took office with a Democratic-controlled legislature. Eight years later, he left office the most popular governor in modern times and had fulfilled every campaign promise and then some.
He did it by finding common ground without abandoning his principles.
I am no Carroll Campbell; we haven’t seen another state leader of his magnitude since he passed away too soon. But we can all learn from him.
I’ve thought about him since my Senate colleagues – Democrats and Republicans – recently elected me President Pro Tempore of the Senate, an honor that is both challenging and humbling. Much has been said and written about the “power” of that position. I don’t see it as a power position, but one that makes the train run on time without running over fellow senators.
Constitutionally, and historically, the S.C. Senate is a “deliberative” body, meaning that we’re supposed to examine issues with great care. Central to deliberation is the idea that all 46 senators were elected the same way, and therefore each deserves respect and a chance to be heard.
Debates can be intense and each vote produces winners and losers, but not before the Senate has heard all sides of an issue. All senators are equal in this regard, whether they represent rich metropolitan areas or poor rural districts.
They are equal because the people they represent are equal in the sight of the law and God.
Which brings us to a word that, in some political circles, is considered obscene nowadays: compromise.
In every other area of life compromise is a good thing. Successful marriages work because both spouses compromise. The same is true for business partnerships and every other endeavor in which people interact. Indeed, life is a compromise in that no one ever gets everything he or she desires.
Failure to compromise in government leads to chaos, as Washington, D.C. is demonstrating with immigration chaos along our border and fiscal insolvency that threatens the future of social security and Medicare. Even the Highway Trust Fund that states depend on for roads and bridges is on the verge of running out of money.
So far, the vast majority of legislators in the S.C. House and Senate have rejected the “my way or the highway” approach to governing. While we have differing views on government and policy, most of us share the idea that government works only if the people’s representatives try to make it work.
We understand that South Carolina has unlimited opportunities for a better quality of life, and that our people deserve the chance to realize their dreams.
We also understand that working together does not require any member to compromise foundational principles. In 34 years of legislative experience, no colleague has ever asked me to compromise my core values, and I have not asked a colleague to do so.
Another Senate tradition is one of fiery debate created by honest differences of opinion. This, too, is good.
Debate on important matters is necessary for the democratic process. When issues reach the floor of the Senate, every senator is on equal footing, free to respectfully convince a majority that his or her position is the right one.
These are the traditions that I, working with my Senate colleagues, plan to uphold.
Hugh Leatherman was first elected to the S.C. Senate from Florence County in 1980. He is president pro tempore of the South Carolina Senate and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.