The Legislature returned to Columbia this past week to begin the 2019-20 session. Orangeburg County has significant seats at the proverbial legislative table with a delegation that is unmatched in length of service.
Sen. John Matthews of Bowman has been a lawmaker since 1985, with 32 years in the Senate and nine years in the House.
Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg has been in the Senate since 1996, a total of 21 years of service.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter of Orangeburg is the senior member of the S.C. House, having served since 1992.
Rep. Jerry Govan of Orangeburg has the second-longest House service, taking office in 1993.
Rep. Russell Ott of Calhoun County has four years of service after succeeding his father Harry Ott, a veteran lawmaker.
Rep. Lonnie Hosey of Allendale County has 18 years in the House.
Such seniority matters in getting the key committee assignments.
Ways and Means and Judiciary in the House, and Finance and Judiciary in the Senate are committees on which nearly every lawmaker wants a seat.
Mathews is a member of Senate Finance. Hutto is on Judiciary.
Cobb-Hunter and Hosey serve on Ways and Means. Govan is the senior Democrat on the Education Committee and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. Ott is vice chair of the House Utility Ratepayer Protection Committee and member of the Agriculture Committee.
Seniority is also important in building relationships over time. And while the entire delegation is made up of Democrats while Republicans control the General Assembly and state government, that does not mean the locals are without influence.
That was a key message from legislative leaders during the Jan. 3 S.C. Press Association Legislative Workshop for the Media. During a session featuring the Senate and House majority and minority leaders, all four stressed that Republicans and Democrats work together in Columbia.
Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey of Edgefield said, “Columbia is not Washington.” What people see in the nation’s capital leads to their impressions that all government is so divisive.
Massey said he and Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler of Lexington confer on all issues, including having a weekly session before every legislative week begins.
Setzler said Republicans and Democrats in Columbia work together to solve problems for South Carolina. “Ninety percent of the time, we reach solutions.”
“We are not Washington, D.C.,” Setzler said. “We do talk to each other.”
Rep. Todd Rutherford, the House minority leader, said, “We take consensus seriously,” crediting House Speaker Jay Lucas with making inclusion of Democrats a top priority.
Perhaps Republicans and those seeing term limits as the way to better government will take exception, but Orangeburg County has reason to be proud of its lawmakers – and to look for them to have a significant say this session on key issues such as tax reform, education and the future of Santee Cooper.