BOWMAN – The changing of the guard for the South Carolina Senate District 39 seat took place in Bowman on Tuesday afternoon.
Former Sen. John Matthews swore in his successor and fellow Bowman native Vernon Stephens during a drive-in ceremony held at Antioch Baptist Church.
Stephens was joined by friends, new colleagues and family, many of them watching the ceremony from their car seats.
“I do solemnly swear that I am duly qualified, according to the constitution of this state, to exercise the duties of the office of which I have been elected,” Stephens said, repeating after Matthews.
Stephens, a Democrat, defeated Republican Tom Connor on Nov. 3.
Matthews served in the House from 1975 until 1984. He was elected to the S.C. Senate in 1984, but decided not to run for re-election this year.
He endorsed Stephens as his successor for District 39, which includes portions of Orangeburg, Calhoun, Colleton, Dorchester and Berkley counties.
“I thought about who I would endorse for this district. I thought about a lot of folks, and I thought, and then I thought, and then I thought, but I kept coming back to one person because I knew his history, I knew his work ethic, I knew his commitment to the public, I knew his commitment to public education, and community service and I don’t think I made a wrong choice,” Matthews said.
“Vernon, best of luck to you. This district has a lot of promise, and I know that you will succeed,” Matthews said.
He also gave advice: “People will forget what you say, Vernon, people will forget what you do, but they’ll never forget how you treat them.”
Stephens pledged to serve the citizens he now represents.
“I will give my very, very best to make sure that the interests of the constituents of District 39 will never go unattended. Also, the citizens of the state of South Carolina. I love South Carolina, where ‘As I breathe, I hope,’” Stephens said.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she knows Stephens will work to improve Orangeburg County.
“I look forward to working with you and the other members of the delegation to continue the work that the seasoned senator did. He laid the foundation, and I know under his lead you are well trained and know how to pick it up. And so I think there are great days ahead for Orangeburg County,” Cobb-Hunter said.
Orangeburg County Council Chairman Johnnie Wright congratulated Stephens and offered words of encouragement.
“As you grow, you will continue to learn, you will continue to be taught. All you need to do is keep God in the front of you, stay humble, stay prayerful, make sure that you prepare, stay patient because sometimes it doesn’t come when you want it, stay persistent, stay focused and God will guide you through,” Wright said.