After weeks of careful consideration, Rock Hill City Councilwoman Kathy Pender has decided not to run against incumbent Republican Gary Simrill for the state House this fall.
Her decision heads off what could've been one of the highest-profile contests in the state, pitting the House's No. 22 man in seniority against the city's most recognizable elected woman. It also hurts the Democrats' chances for a pickoff and leaves one less female candidate in South Carolina, which has the lowest percentage of female legislators in the country.
Pender, 54, told The Herald on Monday that she is busy with her work on the City Council and wants to finish the second term she started this year. She declined to comment on whether she took a poll and said numbers didn't factor into her decision.
It's still possible another Democrat could declare for Simrill's seat, said County Chairman Jim Watkins. But few can match the name recognition of Pender, who has won six elections in Rock Hill, including four on the school board and two on the council.
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Few women in Columbia
If elected, Pender would have become the only woman in York County's 11-member delegation and one of the few in the entire Legislature. South Carolina has the lowest percentage of female legislators in the country, with just 8.8 percent, according to a study by a Raleigh, N.C., research group. The S.C. population is 51 percent female.
The same study found that North Carolina fares much better. In fact, a record number of female state legislators are serving in the current session of the N.C. General Assembly. The Tar Heel State's percentage of female state legislators -- 25 percent -- was just above the national average, according to the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.
Women face the potential for more setbacks in South Carolina this year. State Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence of Rock Hill and Sen. Linda Short of Chester are set to retire at the end of their terms. However, a number of women have declared bids, including Moody-Lawrence's daughter, Leah, and Mandy Powers Norrell, a lawyer from Lancaster.
"It's one of the first things that was pointed out to me when I decided to run," Norrell said. "Women take on so many responsibilities -- work, caring for their families, maintaining their households. A lot of women just think they can't take on one more thing. I'm hoping my candidacy will help show women, 'You can make time.'"
A bipartisan summit is planned in Columbia next month on the topic of women and leadership in South Carolina. Pender said she plans to attend.