Governor. Jim Hodges was born on November 19, 1956, in Lancaster, the son of George and Betty Hodges. He graduated from Lancaster High School in 1975. He attended Davidson College but graduated from the University of South Carolina with a business degree in 1979. While at the university he earned Phi Beta Kappa honors. He received a law degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1982 and returned to Lancaster to practice. On December 2, 1986, Hodges was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives. He chaired the Judiciary Committee from 1992 to 1994 and served as the S.C. House Democratic Leader after the Republican takeover in 1994. On December 5, 1987, he married Rachel Gardner of Hartsville. They have two sons.
When he began his quest for the governorship in 1998, Hodges was a political unknown, given little chance of unseating Republican David Beasley. Conventional political wisdom held that an incumbent governor in a state which epitomizes “traditional” political culture was virtually guaranteed a second term, unless that incumbent made some major political mistakes. Beasley did exactly that. Halfway through his term, he stated that his reading of the Bible had persuaded him that the Confederate flag should be removed from the top of the State House. Flag supporters, especially white males, the core Republican constituency, were enraged. As the controversy heated up in the election year, Beasley tried to reverse himself, which only served to further alienate his supporters. The governor also called for eliminating video poker, an industry that had begun to flourish in South Carolina. His opposition resulted in a flood of both money and manpower into the Hodges campaign. Beasley also opposed a state lottery, a stance which Jim Hodges skillfully turned into an education measure, appealing to strong public support for improving the state’s low ranking on national test scores.
Hodges soundly defeated Beasley with more than fifty-three percent of the vote, winning thirty-five of forty-six counties. His election was heralded as a major triumph for the Democratic Party in a region where victories in statewide elections were increasingly rare.
Education was the centerpiece of Hodges’s term as governor. He oversaw the implementation of the education lottery and created a preschool initiative, First Steps, designed to prepare more children for first grade. He won passage of a $1.1 billion school construction initiative and championed increased teacher pay and more parental involvement in the schools. Hodges also initiated the state’s first sales tax holiday and the South Carolina SilverCard, which offered prescription drug coverage for the state’s senior citizens. He gained national attention in 2002 with his stance against the federal government’s shipment of nuclear waste into the state, vowing to lie down in front of the trucks, if necessary, to prevent the shipments from entering South Carolina.
A slowing economy, declining state revenues, and tax cuts by the Republican-controlled General Assembly severely limited Hodges’s role as an “activist” governor. He was defeated in 2002 when he sought reelection against Mark Sanford, a well-spoken, politically savvy, three-term Republican congressman from Charleston. After his defeat, Hodges took charge of Hodges Consulting Group, a subsidiary of the law firm Kennedy Covington Lobdell and Hickman, based in Columbia.
Edsall, Thomas B. “South Carolina Incumbent in Unexpected Tussle.” Washington Post, September 30, 1998, p. A4.