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Herb Kirsh was man of integrity

January 29, 2014 

Herb Kirsh talks about his years in the South Carolina House of Representatives at his Clover office in 2010.

ANDY BURRISS — ANDY BURRISS - aburriss@heraldonline.com

  • In summary

    Kirsh had a long and esteemed record of public service to state, nation and community.

State Rep. Herb Kirsh didn’t send or receive e-mails. He didn’t blog, tweet or text.

His office in Clover didn’t have a computer, just a desk and a Rolodex full of cards. Even at his office in Columbia, he resisted technological devices any more sophisticated than a push-button phone.

Kirsh, who died Tuesday at age 84, was set in his ways. To a degree, that reflected stubbornness, a reluctance to adapt to changing times.

But, to a greater degree, it represented integrity, a refusal to bend his standards and the wisdom to stick with something that works.

In the realm of politics, Kirsh’s personal attention to his constituents, his close ties with his community, his never-ending search for ways to save a buck worked – they all worked. Voters returned him to office again and again, first as a Clover town councilman, then as mayor and, starting in 1978 until he finally failed to win re-election in 2010, as the Democratic representative for S.C. District 47.

With 32 years in office, he was the state’s longest-serving lawmaker. To mark that status, the license plate on his Lincoln featured simply the number “1” on it.

“They wanted me to give that tag back,” Kirsh told the crowd at an event honoring him in 2011. “I said (heck) no, I’m keeping it. I paid for it. I’ve got it on the wall.”

Kirsh moved with his family in 1937 from New York City to Clover, where his father opened Kirsh Department Store. Herb later would run the store, which also housed his Clover office.

Kirsh married his wife, Sue, another native of New York City, in 1950 after graduating from Duke University the previous year. Sue was an essential partner in Kirsh’s political career, giving tours of the state Capitol while he toiled in the Legislature. She was as involved in the Clover community as he was.

She died in 2009. Wednesday would have been their 64th wedding anniversary.

Kirsh was a Democrat, but proudly refused to vote the party line just because of the “D” after his name. He hewed to his own philosophy, which consisted largely of rooting out wasteful spending and refusing to support bills he found profligate. He had no staffers in his office because he didn’t want to spend public money to pay them.

He earned the nickname “Representative No” for his frugality. But while Republicans tried to woo him to their side of the aisle, he stuck with the Democratic Party, in part, no doubt, because he simply refused to change.

His final campaign was a relatively quiet one. Pope never spoke ill of Kirsh during the race, but voters were ready for a change. Kirsh still was entirely devoted to his job and his constituents but his famous command of numbers and details was slipping.

Long-serving politicians such as Kirsh eventually must step down, either by choice, by fate or by the will of the voters. But that doesn’t dim the estimable record of public service to his state and country, but primarily to his community and its residents, whom he loved and who loved him back.

This week, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, called Kirsh a “legendary man and legislator.” That is no exaggeration.

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