School's in session for S.C. House freshmen

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina House rookies spent Tuesday finding out what to expect in their freshmen terms.

The cast of seven Democrats and 16 Republicans elected Nov. 4 includes state Rep. Tim Scott, the first black Republican winning a House seat since reconstruction ended.

The former chairman of Charleston County Council also is the first Republican people can remember in the Legislative Black Caucus, said Rep. Leon Howard, a Columbia Democrat who chairs the caucus.

"We're glad to have him," Howard said.

Mingling at the start of the orientation session was Rep. Anne Peterson Hutto, a Charleston Democrat who defeated incumbent Republican Rep. Wallace Scarborough by just over 200 votes.

Scarborough is challenging that outcome, and Hutto said she'll just be glad when that's over.

It was old school, though, for Rep. Rita Allison, R-Lyman. Allison gave up the Spartanburg County seat she had held from 1993 to 2002 and made an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor. She won her House seat back when Republican Rep. Joe Mahaffey decided not to run again.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, called Allison a redshirt freshman.

Allison and Hutto were among a half-dozen female freshmen, including Fort Mill optometrist Deborah Long.

While the House's Women's Caucus grew by four members to 17, no woman won a race in the Senate for the first time in 30 years, making it the nation's only males-only upper chamber.

Harrell told the freshmen they'd quickly get rid of the idea that serving in the Legislature is a three-day-a-week part-time job from January to June.

The freshmen and other House members will be sworn in Dec. 2 when the House holds its organizational session.

By then, Harrell will decide which committees on which the rookies will serve.

The South Carolina House of Representatives welcomes its largest freshman class since 1992 this week. Three questions about what it means:

Who are they?

The 23 freshmen are 16 Republicans and seven Democrats, 17 men and six women. They include business owners and attorneys, but also a funeral director (Democrat John King of Rock Hill) and a community relations manager for Furman University. One, Dan Hamilton, R-Greenville, is taking over a seat vacated by his father. Another, Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, is returning to the Statehouse after resigning her seat in 2002 to run for lieutenant governor. And another is making history. Tim Scott, R-Charleston, is the first black Republican elected to the General Assembly in about 100 years.

What does this mean for the House?

It's unclear right now. Many of the newcomers share views with Gov. Mark Sanford, who has clashed with lawmakers. These Republicans, plus two Democratic pickups, could narrow the balance of power that Republicans have enjoyed over the past few years.

What does it mean for the Midlands?

Possibly more leadership positions. Many of those who left were from the Upstate, particularly Spartanburg County. Two committee chairs are up for grabs when the House meets Dec. 2-3 to organize and pick committees and leaders. Lexington Rep. Kenny Bingham could become majority leader, while Lexington Rep. Ted Pitts could head the House Education committee.

-- The (Columbia) State