Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, who served in the U.S. Senate for 38 years and just died at 97, was an incredible leader and politician.
He represented the best of South Carolina, which would have been even more on the wrong side of history on racial issues without his efforts, as this excellent story notes. He was a legislator and governor before heading to Washington, D.C., where he served alongside arch-conservative Strom Thurmond for three decades.
I’d just come to the South when I heard Hollings give a speech and I recall not understanding a word he said — his Charleston accent was so thick and cool.
His passion to protect U.S. textile companies and their workers’ jobs was no match for the tenured professors, Wall Street Journal editorial page and global trade advocates who criticized “protectionism” and painted Hollings as a tool of textile magnate Roger Milliken. Now, dozens of former southern textile towns remain hobbled economically and, in too many cases, impoverished. The inevitable transition away from domestic production could have been handled more humanely if lawmakers and business leaders had listened to Hollings.
The senator didn’t mince words on this or any other issue, mixing in lots of humor in the process. At the end of his career, I remember him saying that if rank-and-file South Carolinians paid a fraction as much attention to their economic well-being as they did to Clemson or USC football, the state would be much better off. That hasn’t changed.