Beaufort’s Rev. Hodges on Tuesday ballot

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

The Rauch Report

By Bill Rauch

The shadow of Clementa Pinckney hangs long over the State Senate District 45 special election, the key Democratic primary voting for which will be held this Tuesday, September 1.

For example, in the days before his tragic death on June 17 as one of the nine killed at the Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston where he had served as Senior Pastor since 2010, State Senator Pinckney had shepherded into South Carolina law the state’s police body camera bill. The need for the measure had become obvious to Pinckney after he viewed a bystander’s video of the senseless April 4th shooting of Walter Scott by a North Charleston police officer. On Wednesday evening August 19th at their one debate the Democratic Party candidates vying for Pinckney’s seat stumbled over each other to pledge that they would continue Pinckney’s work.

Rev. Kenneth F. Hodges (left) and his Campaign Chairperson, Rev. McKinley Washington, stood together after the August 19 debate.
Rev. Kenneth F. Hodges (left) and his Campaign Chairperson, Rev. McKinley Washington, stood together after the August 19 debate.

Of the 11 candidates seeking to succeed Senator Pinckney only one, the Rev. Kenneth F. Hodges, has substantial ties to the Beaufort area. Hodges is the longtime pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church on Craven Street in Beaufort and he owns and operates the LyBensons Art Gallery around the corner on Port Republic Street.

The good news for Rev. Hodges’ candidacy is he’s without question the most experienced candidate in the race. Hodges is a ten-year veteran of the South Carolina House representing District 121, and a friend and colleague of Pinckney’s during those years. Moreover, from 1989-1995 Hodges served on the Bennettsville City Council. The only other present or former elected official in the crowded field is Colleton County School Board member William Bowman, Jr.

The importance of Rev. Hodges’ experience in government was reinforced by the lawmaker’s campaign chairperson, the legendary Rev. McKinley Washington from Edisto Island, who held Senate Seat 45 from 1990-2000, when he observed on the front page of the July 29th Charleston Chronicle that “Rev. Hodges will go to the Senate with some seniority … he can hit the ground running.”

The bad news for Rev. Hodges’ candidacy is he lives in tiny Green Pond and most of the votes and candidates in 89,000 person District 45 are from around Charleston. District 45 is comprised of parts of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties.

But that discrepancy didn’t seem to trouble the lawmaker as he faced off on the 19th against nine of the ten candidates with whom he shares the September 1 ballot. (One candidate, R. Keith Horton, missed the debate.) While the other nine were confined to talking about what they would do, Hodges enjoyed the luxury of speaking about what he has done and will do.

A fighter for small businesses, Hodges is the author and chief sponsor of the South Carolina Microenterprises Development Act that was passed into law last year and that directs the state’s Commerce Department to provide grants and loans to community and microloan delivery organizations that support microenterprises in South Carolina. “Microenterprises” are businesses that require less than $25,000 for their start-up capital, and have fewer than five employees.

For his efforts on behalf of business development Hodges was recently awarded the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s 2015 Business Advocate Award. A fighter for education, the environment and affordable health care as well, Hodges’ present district includes some of the poorest areas in South Carolina. Should he win the State Senate seat, District 45 includes more of the state’s poorest places.

As the only legislator in the group, Hodges was the only one at the August 19th debate who could say, as he did, that he had voted for Senator Pinckney’s body camera bill. Answering a subsequent question about whether the tapes from the police body cameras should be immediately available to reporters, the candidates offered enthusiastically their various opinions. However, in a telling moment, Hodges was one of the last whose turn it was to answer. In reassuring tones and exhibiting his experience with lawmaking, he observed those issues would be examined when the new law’s mandatory review comes up next year. His was the answer of a pro, and it set him obviously apart from the others.

Whether it is pushing for an outlying field for the Air Station’s new F-35’s, or straightening out a bureaucratic tangle for a new business, or tracking down a senior citizen’s lost check, Rev. Hodges has been famously accessible to his constituents. That reputation will serve him well next Tuesday.

So will the tradition of District 45. Rev. McKinley Washington served 16 years in House seat 116 before moving up to Senate District seat 45 where he served ten years. Senator Washington was succeeded by the martyred Rev. Clementa Pinckney who served four years in House seat 122 before moving up to Senate District seat 45 where he served 14 years. Tuesday Rev. Kenneth Hodges will seek to continue that tradition. He is the only one running who is qualified to do so.