COLUMBIA -- Martinez real estate agent Jim Courson was attending a trade convention in Hilton Head Island in the mid-1980s when he was approached by a colleague who had something to say about his younger brother John.
The man had been a classmate of John’s at the University of South Carolina.
“He said, ‘Listen, I understand John’s going to run for state Senate,’” recalled Jim Courson. “And this guy, out of the blue said, ‘Well, you know he ain’t got a prayer.’ I was kind of stunned,” said Jim Courson, 75, during an interview this week.
But his brother won the election. And when he saw the headline that ran across the front page of the newspaper, Jim mailed a copy to his brother’s detractor with the note: “You know, in life, you never know how things are going to turn out.”
That’s been especially true lately in the South Carolina Senate.
When ethics violations forced Ken Ard to resign as lieutenant governor, then-Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, a Charleston Republican, took over the ceremonial job. Then the Senate voted 27-17 last month for Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, to serve as president pro tempore. Eighteen out of 19 Democrats supported Courson.
Courson, 67, said he’d been approached by senators from both parties to run for the position, which he said is akin to a chief executive officer. And he’ll run for it again in January, assuming he wins re-election to Senate District 20 this November.
The lawmaker recalled one Democratic senator’s unvarnished appeal.
“He said, ‘One, we think you’d be fair,’” said Courson. “‘But also with the problems we’ve had in state government in recent years, you’ve run seven Senate campaigns ... if there’s anything out there, we’d have probably found out by now.’”
The Richmond Academy grad describes himself as a conservative. Dozens of photos cover his office walls, chronicling his devotion to politics, which began when he helped organize for Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign at USC in 1964.
Growing up in Augusta, Courson said a next-door neighbor got him interested in the Republican Party. That person was Ed Luke, described in his obituary last year as the first Republican state representative from Richmond County. The Coursons were a close-knitt family that attended Trinity on the Hill Methodist Church and lived on Central Avenue, said his brother Jim.
Though the senator said he was initially inspired by Luke, he later became an admirer of President John F. Kennedy, and even drove all night to attend his funeral.
Afterward he represented President Reagan at three Republican National Conventions and served as state chairman and co-chairman for U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond. Courson has had dogs named Strom, Goldwater and most recently, Reagan.
And while his party activism over the decades also includes chairman of the Strom Thurmond Monument Commission in 1997 and state vice chair of George W. Bush for President in 2000, his list of awards is sprinkled with honors from the S.C. Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club.
Courson still has family with ties to Augusta, including his brother and sister. But he said he rarely makes the hour-and-a-half drive to Georgia.
“When he left Augusta, he left,” said his brother Jim Courson. “He loves South Carolina.”
Edgefield Sen. Shane Massey, was among the Republicans who had supported Courson’s Upstate rival for the pro tem position, Republican Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler.
“I have great expectations for Sen. Courson,” said Massey on Thursday. “He’s a tremendous guy.”
Rep. Bill Hixon, R-North Augusta, pointed to Courson’s longstanding relationships within the body.
“Harvey (Peeler) had been there a long time, too, but Sen. Courson was the type that would work with both sides of the aisle,” added Hixon.
“Sometimes we need to shed that R or D and do what’s best for the state, and Sen. Courson has always done that.”