SC senators swap powerful roles in leadership change in wake of Leatherman’s death

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The South Carolina Legislature upper chamber has a new leader marking a new era in the Senate after the death of longtime state Sen. Hugh Leatherman.

State Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, was voted Senate president Monday, gaining influential control over the 46-member chamber. His responsibilities now include choosing who gets to sit on what committees and deciding who gets recognized on the floor.

“My heart is full with gratitude as you have entrusted me with to serve as president of the institution we all love and revere,” Alexander said in his first remarks as president, donning the signature purple robe. “This is an exciting time and yet humbling day.”

Alexander succeeds Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, who stepped down to become Senate Finance Committee chairman, giving him control over the state spending.

Leatherman died in November at age 90. Though Peeler and Leatherman were elected the same year — 1980 — Leatherman had seniority, and therefore chairmanship on the committee, by virtue of alphabetical order.

“Hugh Leatherman will be missed by many many people in this state,” Peeler said.

Alexander, who has been in the Senate since 1995 and stepped down from his chairman position over the Senate’s Labor Commerce and Industry Committee, runs an office supply business.

Newly sworn in President of the Senate, Rep.Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, greets former president, Charlie Peeler, R-Cherokee, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021
Newly sworn in President of the Senate, Rep.Thomas Alexander, R-Oconee, greets former president, Charlie Peeler, R-Cherokee, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021

Senate rules prevent the Senate president from chairing a committee at the same time.

The Senate created the presidency position to preside over the chamber after moving the lieutenant governor position fully to the executive branch to run as part of a ticket with the governor.

Peeler was elected as the chamber’s first president in 2019, and then reelected earlier this year to a four-term in the position.

“We thank Sen. Peeler for his devoted leadership over the South Carolina Senate during his time as Senate President, and look forward to working with him as he transitions into his role as Chairman of Finance,” Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto said. “We also congratulate Senator Alexander as he steps up as Senate President, and welcome the opportunity to work with him moving forward. His experience and wisdom will serve the people of South Carolina well as he leads the Senate.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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