COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s highest civilian honor has been awarded to athletes, state lawmakers, religious leaders, retired military personnel and police officers.
It’s been used to curry favor with voters and to reward longtime employees and agency directors.
Rosa Parks, Ray Charles, author Pat Conroy, L.A. Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda and two-time presidential candidate Ross Perot each have one. So does the “Terminator” and former governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The state’s Order of the Palmetto was created to honor and recognize a native or resident South Carolinian’s lifetime of extraordinary achievement, service or contributions on a statewide level.
But records dating back to 1971, when the state’s highest civilian honor was first created, show that every governor has handed them out differently, and it’s been up to their discretion who gets it and how many they give out. So many have been given out, at least 67 people have received the once-in-a-lifetime honor more than once.
At least one former governor says he worries the value of the award is dropping, suggesting a more specific process be established to ensure the honor stays of value.
“I think there is an issue of giving it out too much,” said former Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges, who bestowed the honor 371 times during his one term in office. “I’m not here to criticize the number that everyone else has given out. That’s why I think when you set up a process for it, that people have confidence that it’s fair and it’s thorough, I think that ensures it has greater value to the recipients.”
‘We have a lot of special people in this state’
In 1971, Democratic Gov. John West had an idea.
The Camden native wanted to honor and recognize extraordinary achievement and industrialists who opened facilities in South Carolina.