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We All Got Played In Leatherman’s Game
Published:
2/8/2017 3:56:28 PM

By Barney Blakeney 
 

I think I’m just naïve. The guys on the block say I’m just a sucker. There’s probably some merit to that characterization. I mean, who falls for the same ole okey-doke time after time? Barney and black folk.

I honestly didn’t think South Carolina legislators would go for the game played by Florence Sen. Hugh Leatherman regarding the rise to Lt. Governor after Nikki Haley was appointed Ambassador to the United Nations. As Senate Pro Tempore, Leatherman was supposed to ascend to the Lt. Governor’s position when Henry McMaster succeeded Haley. But Leatherman said he wouldn’t do it despite the S.C. Constitution’s mandate he do so according to the order of succession. During his 35 years in the S.C. Senate, Leatherman’s gained considerable power. Some consider him among the most powerful members of the legislature. He said he wasn’t about to give up his power to play second fiddle to the governor. Therein lays the problem.

In South Carolina government as well as our nation’s federal government, the same names found among the ruling class are the same names found among our government leaders. I don’t know Leatherman, but I know how power is wielded in the Pee Dee region where Leatherman is from. I got a taste of it the summer after my freshman year of college.

My mom is from that area and when I couldn’t find a summer job here in Charleston, she asked her brother to find work for me in Kingstree. I’d spent many summers there as a kid. I was too young to understand the power structure then. As a young man I got a full serving of the bittersweet reality of life in rural South Carolina. My uncle used his influence to get me a job in a tobacco packing house run by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. We put tobacco bought from local farmers in huge barrels to be shipped to the company’s product manufacturing plants in North Carolina. It was hard work and the pay was abysmal. It was a humbling experience. I got a small taste of what it must have been like to be trapped in that lifestyle. I tried to rally the guys to protest for more money. One of the brothers said, “Charleston, you’re going back home when this job is done. We have to stay here.”

I quit, caught a bus back to Charleston, told my uncle to keep my last paycheck in appreciation for putting me up and trying to help me and never went back to Kingstree for more than a few hours’ visit until very recently. Of course I learned over the years that the exploitation of black and poor people is universal in the United States – Chicago, Charleston, Kingstree – ain’t no difference. People in power maintain that power so they can continue the exploitation of others. But I’ve always been confused by those who use power to exploit and take advantage of others. I was taught by some really great people, people who taught me I should do the right thing, respect others and treat people fairly. I’ve come to expect that from others.

So when this whole Lt. Governor thing came about, I really expected Leatherman, despite being a powerbroker in an area where keeping black and poor folks subservient was the way of life, would do the right thing just cause it was the honorable thing to do. Moreover, I thought the South Carolina Senate would do the right thing as well. I forgot that after former Charleston Sen. Glenn McConnell honorably fell on the Lt. Governor sword in 2012, Kingstree Sen. Yancey McGill got involved in a subsequent game of musical chairs in the effort to maintain power in the Pee Dee.

Despite that recent history, I really didn’t think the Senate would go along with Leatherman’s game to retain power. And I certainly didn’t think that Black senators would play the game. At the end of the day, the Senate voted 28-16 to put Leatherman back in power. More disturbing, the vote was carried by blacks and white Democrats. Surprisingly all 16 of the votes against Leatherman came from his Republican colleagues.

I talked with some local black legislators and they say the rally to support Leatherman came because Leatherman was the lesser of the two evils vying for the position. I understand that. But I feel like blacks in the senate found themselves in that position because they’ve been playing games all along. When Robert Ford was in the senate he consistently ran on a platform of having accrued seniority during his 20-year tenure. Like his predecessors, he had become another career politician. He’s not alone. From the S.C. Senate on down to municipalities across this state blacks elected to public office have made their service in public office their careers. One source called South Carolina elections a rigged game because 76 percent (129 of 170) of our state legislators faced no major party competition last time around. According to the source South Carolina has some of the least competitive legislative elections in the nation. And as a result incumbents aren’t accountable and money rules.

It bothers me that black elected officials go along with the game. The Civil Rights Movement wasn’t about electing Black folks to office so they could join the gerrymander/maintain power game. The Civil Rights Movement was about changing the game. There are those who profess that changing the game means being at the table. I’m sure that’s true. But after being at the table through 50 years and two generations of black elected officials all black folks have gotten is the same old same old and a system that still doesn’t benefit us.

I’ve read that a lot of folks were dissatisfied with Leatherman’s scheme. Black senators, caught between a rock and hard place, probably also were dissatisfied. I read one senator, a white Republican challenging Leatherman’s manipulation of the process, admonished his colleagues to “remember how we got where we are”.

That admonishment also should be heeded by black legislators. They should remember how for the past 50 years black elected officials have gone along to get along and how some along the way managed to line their own pockets. Voters too should remember how we got where we are today. We’ve all being played in the power struggle among the ruling class.
 

Visitor Comments

Submitted By: kyleSubmitted: 2/9/2017
Great article! We need to end the gerrymandering in SC.


 
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