John Graham Altman (AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain)
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - John Graham Altman, a former Republican legislator and Charleston County School Board member known for his sharp tongue, died Tuesday. He was 79.
Altman's family confirmed his death to the AP.
Altman retired from the South Carolina House in 2006 after representing a West Ashley district of Charleston for 10 years. He previously served on the school board for 20 years, including four years as chairman.
As he retired from the Legislature, he considered running for school board again, saying "the real focus needs to be on our sorry school system."
The attorney never minced words, and he was unafraid to publicly oppose members of either party.
"I can't imagine the fascist sort of government we Republicans are running up here," he said in 2006 about a proposed mandate on businesses. "We're supposed to be helping businesses."
House Speaker Bobby Harrell called Altman a true conservative.
"You always knew where you stood with him. He never hesitated to say exactly what was on his mind," said Harrell, also a Charleston Republican. "John was a dear friend of mine and we are all going to miss him."
Reporters could usually count on Altman to say on the record what other lawmakers would only discuss anonymously.
But his unabashed style didn't resonate with all.
In 2005, Altman unintentionally sparked a push for harsher penalties for domestic violence offenders after he told a reporter he didn't understand why women returned to abusive relationships. The public outcry led Altman to make a rare apology and gave the bill, which had been killed in his subcommittee, new life.
Former Gov. Mark Sanford signed the bill into law that summer.
In 2003, Rep. Leon Howard, a black Columbia Democrat, charged Altman's desk, calling him a "racist bastard" for scuttling a bill Howard was pushing that required wrappers on plastic drinking straws. Altman said Howard' s legislation "was a silly, frivolous bill not worthy of our time." A crowd formed and Howard challenged Altman to "step outside" before the sergeant-at-arms stepped in. The two shook hands later that day but soon exchanged words and had to be separated again.
Even in his retirement speech in the House, he admonished colleagues to keep the door closed to illegal immigrants. "We are high on Mexico's food chain right now," he said.
Altman actually got his start in politics working for a Democrat as spokesman for then-Gov. Fritz Hollings from 1959 to 1963.
The Post and Courier reported (http://bit.ly/1ehOGbt ) that Altman had been in declining health for some time. His wife, Charm, recently told the Charleston newspaper he'd taken a turn for the worse and been admitted to the intensive care unit at Medical University Hospital, suffering from kidney and blood infections.
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