South Carolina soon could stop the longstanding practice of naming state roads, bridges, buildings and other landmarks after living people who sometimes go on to publicly embarrass themselves.
State Sen. Katrina Shealy said Wednesday she will file a bill to that effect before the S.C. General Assembly reconvenes in January. The proposal would allow such honors only after a person has been dead more than a year, or in special cases — such as when a soldier or police officer is killed in the line of duty.
The Lexington Republican said enough is enough after former S.C. Department of Transportation board member John Hardee — namesake of the John Hardee Expressway near the Columbia Metropolitan Airport — was charged with violating his federal probation by trying to hire a prostitute for $40.
That arrest came a day after Hardee was sentenced to probation for trying to destroy evidence in an FBI investigation into whether he accepted bribes as a DOT official.
“In light of recent events, with the John Hardee thing, we just need to stop doing these things,” Shealy said. “There’s a likelihood that something could happen or something is already happening and we just don’t know about it.”
Shealy’s proposal has early bipartisan backing. State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, told The State he plans to support the bill when it is filed this fall.
But the bill could meet some resistance from lawmakers who see such a ban as an overreaction.
Former state Sen. Joel Lourie, for whom the interchange of I-77 and Decker Boulevard in Richland County is named, said he doesn’t like the idea of waiting until someone is dead to recognize them for their public service.
The Richland Democrat’s father, the late state Sen. Isadore Lourie, D-Richland, was honored shortly after his retirement from the Senate with a ceremony naming the interchange of Bluff Road and I-77 for him.
“What a wonderful tribute it was for my dad, who gave 28 years of public service and defined what a statesman should be about, what politics should be about — bringing people together,” Lourie said.
More than 1,000 S.C. roads, bridges and interchanges are named after people at the request of legislators or DOT board members. But two recent honorees — former state Sens. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, and John Courson, R-Richland — have pleaded guilty to misconduct charges related to misspending their campaign money on personal expenses.
Courson asked the DOT to take his name off of a Columbia interchange, while Ford has been publicly adamant that a Charleston-area road should continue to bear his name because of the good work he did as a senator.
In 2005, the S.C. House voted to rename the Earle E. Morris Jr. Highway in Pickens County after its namesake, the state’s former lieutenant governor and comptroller general, was convicted of securities fraud. But that proposal died in the Senate, and the road remains named after Morris, who died in 2011.
State Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, this week proposed naming a new S.C. State University building in Charleston after Ford, not mentioning his legal troubles.
Harpootlian says legislators often push for road namings in order to curry political favor.
“It’s a practice whose time has come and gone,” he said.
Shealy added: “It’s all about ego. Let’s just wait. If you’re worthy, maybe somebody will name something after you.”
I.S. Leevy Johnson, the namesake for an I-277 interchange, said he has mixed feelings about the proposal.
“It means a lot to receive that recognition,” said the Richland Democrat and former House member. “On the other hand, it is very risky to do it for a living person. All of us are imperfect.”
Hardee’s name soon could come off the local expressway anyway.
The DOT board will consider removing Hardee’s name after his recent run-ins with the law, The Post and Courier reported last week.
Shealy’s proposal would not affect landmarks already named after living people. Those would be grandfathered in.