Crack politician Jim Hodges (born 1956), a Democratic legislator, won the 1998 gubernatorial contest in the traditionally Republican stronghold of South Carolina.
Jim Hodges emerged from relative obscurity to win the South Carolina gubernatorial election in 1998. The win came as a surprise even to many South Carolinians, in a state that holds conservative Republican philosophy in high regard. Hodges not only won the election, but defeated the incumbent Republican Governor David Beasley--a former Democrat who switched parties in a strategic political maneuver.
Hodges, a native of South Carolina, was born in Lancaster County on November 19, 1956. He was one of three siblings. When Hodges was three years old, his mother decided to continue her education. She went to school, studied in her spare time, and earned a bachelors degree. She went on to earn a masters degree, and by the time Hodges graduated from high school his mother was a Ph.D. candidate. Her dedication to her studies served as an inspiration to Hodges. He enrolled at Davidson College and then transferred to the University of South Carolina, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1979. He continued at the University of South Carolina School of Law and graduated in 1982.
In 1986 Hodges embarked on a career in the South Carolina state legislature as a Democratic representative from Lancaster County, where he served for 11 years. During that time, Hodges chaired the state's House Judiciary Committee between 1992 and 1994. In 1994 he assumed leadership of the minority party, a position that he retained for the duration of his legislative career.
Despite his prior political experience, Hodges was not well known around the state when he entered the governor's race in South Carolina in 1998. That, in addition to his affiliation with the less conservative Democratic party, made him an unlikely candidate to compete against the Republican incumbent, Governor David Beasley, in the GOP stronghold of South Carolina.
Hodges acknowledged the nature of the challenge and devised a campaign platform, in part with the help of state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian. The campaign strategy was predicated on improving education in South Carolina, and Hodges's platform, endorsed in part by gambling interests, proposed the implementation of a state lottery system to generate revenue to improve the South Carolina schools.
Hodges pursued this campaign strategy, and on election day he emerged with a majority 53 percent of the vote to defeat Beasley. Hodges was elected as the 114th governor of South Carolina and was the first candidate ever to defeat a qualified incumbent governor. That fact, and the stalwart Republican political climate in the state of South Carolina, combined emphatically to impart a sense of extreme accomplishment to the Hodges victory.
Since the issue of education had infused life into the Hodges platform, an inaugural gala was developed around the theme "It's all about our schools." Inauguration day for the politician from Lancaster County was a major event for his family and for hometown colleagues as well. The event took place on January 13, 1999, at the South Carolina state fair grounds in Columbia, with well over 6,000 people in attendance. Hodges's 5-year-old son along with classmates from North Elementary School in Lancaster led the Pledge of Allegiance. Busloads of Hodges's constituents from Lancaster County attended. Festivities ensued complete with fighter planes flying overhead.
Education Accomplishments as Governor
As governor of South Carolina, Hodges has lived up to his campaign pledge to keep education his top priority. In addition to advocating the education lottery, Hodges has proposed funding for character education, improved school transportation, and training for teachers. He has also focused on an early childhood education initiative, First Steps to School Readiness, as well as a $7.5 million Excellence in Middle Schools Initiative, which according to the governor's web site, would "[give] middle schools the flexibility to hire additional guidance counselors, safety officers, nurses or psychologists." First Lady Rachel Hodges has even joined the education initiative, hosting "Reading with Rachel," which features a children's book each month at various events across the state.
Husband and Father
Hodges is married to the former Rachel Gardner of Hartsville, South Carolina. They have two sons, Luke and Sam, and Hodges places his family in high regard. He commuted to the family home in Lancaster on a daily basis during the gubernatorial campaign. The family resides in a secure, 4,200-square-foot luxury residence on Heyward Street in Shandon, a district in the South Carolina capitol of Columbia. The Hodges children attend school in the A.C. Moore Elementary School district.
Hodges's professional dealings outside of politics include seats on the boards of various firms, including a position as the general counsel to the Springs Company, a financial and real estate conglomerate. Rachel Hodges, who holds a degree in psychology from Columbia College, worked for a time for Springs Industries of North Carolina. She transferred to Lancaster County through that firm's management program. There it was that she met her future husband through mutual friends at a Christmas party. The couple married during the time when Hodges was a member of the South Carolina legislature.
As governor, Hodges and his family enjoyed a unique lifestyle and new experiences. He is known to consort with the likes of Hootie and the Blowfish and other celebrities in the course of promoting his educational programs for the youth of South Carolina.
Legislator of the Year, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, 1993; Compleat Lawyer Silver Medallion, University of South Carolina School of Law, 1994; Guardian of Small Business, National Federation of Independent Business, 1996.
Bandy, Lee, "Governor's Family Settles into Stately Home While Mansion Undergoes Renovation," Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 24, 1998, p. K1502.
Click, Carolyn, "When Husband Jim Hodges is Sworn In ?," Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, January 6, 1999, p. K5256.
"Profiles of Nation's New Governors," Associated Press, November 4, 1998.
Sponhour, Michael, "Schools Get Top Billing at Hodges Inaugural," Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, December 10, 1998, p. K4913.
Strope, Leigh, "6,000-plus Expected at Hodges Ceremony," Sun News, January 9, 1999.
Sun News, January 11, 1999.
Taylor, Ron, "South Should Bet on High-tech Edge, New Governors Say," Atlanta Constitution, January 19, 1999.
"Governor Jim Hodges of South Carolina," http://www.nga.org/Governor/GovSouthCarolina.asp (November 29, 2000).
"Governor's Office: State of South Carolina," http://www.state.sc.us/governor/index.html (November 29, 2000).