Gary Simrill doesn't do big announcements or fancy kickoff parties, but the veteran Rock Hill lawmaker plans to run again for the state House seat he's held for nearly two decades.
Simrill has risen to No. 22 in seniority in the 124-member House since first winning the seat in 1992 and now sits on the powerful Ways & Means Committee, which handles the state's money.
"I love what I do," he said in sharing his decision with The Herald. "At the same time, it's very time-consuming. We're considered to be a part-time Legislature in South Carolina, but really, it's a full-time endeavor."
There had been some chatter around town lately that Simrill, a Republican, might not run. His decision sets up what could be the first competitive contest in District 46 since 2002, when lawyer Dan Ballou, a Democrat from Rock Hill, lost a heated upset bid.
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Some election-watchers think the timing sets up well for another Democrat to jump in. Conservative Republicans appear lukewarm over likely presidential nominee John McCain, fueling predictions that GOP turnout will be lighter than usual.
Democrats also believe Simrill is vulnerable on his support for school vouchers, which provide tax credits for families to send their children to private schools.
"I'm still waiting for him to respond to my letter I wrote him three years ago where I was concerned about the voucher system," said Jim Watkins, chairman of the York County Democrats. "I wonder how many people like me are out there that he's never had the courtesy to respond to. I think over 16 years, he's gotten rather complacent."
Simrill, 41, said he favors so-called school choice only in limited cases, such as in failing districts where families are eager for more options. He did not recall getting a letter from Watkins but added that he gets lots of mail.
"Fortunately, we have great school districts," Simrill said. "But then, we have some that aren't so great. York County is very fortunate. We have a strong base of schools."
Unseating Simrill would be tough. The district includes much of Rock Hill , but also western stretches such as Newport that tend to lean conservative. Six years ago, Ballou was thought to be a solid candidate with a good chance, but Simrill trounced him with 64 percent of the vote.
Watkins declined to comment on prospective Democratic candidates.
Simrill, who owns the Carolina Motorworks car dealership, describes himself as a consistent conservative. As for the possibility of an opponent, Simrill said voters always get the final say: "I've been riding in the saddle. But obviously, the seat does not belong to me."