A different voice in the boys' club

State Sen. Linda Short, D-Chester, chats with fellow lawmakers recently on the Senate floor at the Statehouse. Short is retiring from politics when she finishes her term this year.
State Sen. Linda Short, D-Chester, chats with fellow lawmakers recently on the Senate floor at the Statehouse. Short is retiring from politics when she finishes her term this year.

When state Sen. Linda Short walked in awe onto the Senate floor after being first elected in 1992, she was one of three women. For several years, she was the only woman.

She often was the senator who initiated discussions about issues such as teen pregnancy or abortion. Short said women have a knack for resolving disputes -- they've been doing it in classrooms and with their families. That came in handy in a setting where people often disagree.

But after 16 years, the 60-year-old Democrat from Chester is retiring from politics. Short said she viewed her service as a senator as an honor.

"It was such a sense of, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe people trust me enough to come here and make decisions that are really important, that are going to affect their lives,'" she said.

Though Short was the only woman in the Senate for several years, that changed last year, when Catherine Ceips of Beaufort was chosen to finish the unexpired Senate term of Scott Richardson, who resigned.

Short, who represents part of Rock Hill, all of Chester, most of Fairfield and a chunk of Union counties, said women sometimes are less concerned with who gets credit for an accomplishment, another big piece of politics.

Although Short said she was always accepted and respected by her colleagues, she said it was harder than people might think when she was the only woman.

"Part of it is harder because of social things," she said. "You don't have that built-in support group. You don't have a whole bunch of people that are just your buddies that you go to lunch with. When I go to dinner, it's me and eight guys."

But it was not her gender that made Short's service important to the York and Chester county area, according to community leaders and her colleagues.

Instead, they said, it was her commitment to education, her accessibility and her willingness to work on projects that would better the local community.

"It just kills me to know that I don't have anybody down there right now that would be able to do what she does for Chester County," said Chester County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey.

"She's just been a person that I can pick up the telephone and call," Roddey said about Short. "I can say, 'I need this,' or 'I need that.' I can pat her on the back, or I can call her up and vent about what the other dudes are doing."

Short was elected in 1992 to represent a newly formed district with a high population of minorities. She said she was told that only a minority candidate could represent the people there.

But Short said she found as a legislator that race is not what determines a person's needs.

"People want the same things," she said. "They want good schools for their children. They want safe neighborhoods to live in. They want quality, affordable, available health care.

"It doesn't matter about race," she said. "What's difficult is trying to balance the needs of an urban area, which is Rock Hill, and the needs of a rural area, which is all the rest of the district. Those are very often competing."

Short has distinguished herself as a major supporter of education and a voice of reason in heated discussions.

"I think her style is generally soft-spoken," said a colleague, Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill. "However, she can be very outspoken when the need arises."

"You don't do anything by yourself in Columbia, so you have to build trust," Hayes said. "I think she has built a lot of trust that she has a good perspective and is doing the right thing."

Short served on the education committee with Hayes and had her hands in almost every major piece of education legislation the Senate worked on -- including a recently enacted accountability law that will change the way students in South Carolina are tested and evaluated. She brought a local perspective to education issues, after serving about 10 years on the Chester County school board.

"Regardless of how large or how small the issue was, it was never too small for Linda to be involved," said Denise Lawson, chairwoman of the Chester school board.

"She always responded very quickly and very adamantly that the best interest of the kids was her goal," Lawson said.

Short helped York Technical College get money for its new Chester Center, which should be finished in November.

York Tech President Greg Rutherford said the project is the centerpiece of a Class A business park in Chester. It will offer training and work force development support that will make it easier to recruit business and industry to the area, he said.

"It's highly unlikely that it ever would have happened without Sen. Short's support and hard work, and actually going out on a limb to secure funding and to pave the way behind the scenes to make things happen," Rutherford said.

"Politically, she not only represented us in Columbia with other legislators and the leadership, but she also worked locally with County Council and individuals whose support we needed to do things in order to move that project forward," he said.

Short decided to retire so she could travel and spend time with her husband, Paul, and her grandchildren, Ariel, Noah and Blythe. She joked that she is being selfish for once in her adult life. She plans to do some genealogy and learn to play the guitar.

"It just feels like the right time in my life to do that," she said.