South Carolina's General Assembly is largely a boys' club. With women amounting to only 8.8 percent of state lawmakers, South Carolina has the lowest percentage in the nation of women in its Legislature.
Now, with the state Sen. Linda Short, D-Chester, and state Rep. Bessie Moody-Lawrence, D-Rock Hill, stepping down, the percentage may drop another notch. Both women will retire at the end of their terms this year.
Short served for several years as the only woman in the state Senate. That changed last year when Catherine Ceips of Beaufort was chosen to finish the unexpired Senate term of Scott Richardson, who resigned. A number of women candidates also vied in Tuesday's primaries for state House and Senate seats, so the number of women legislators could rise in November.
But both Short and Moody-Lawrence have been members of a scant minority for years. Short, in particular, noted the lack of a built-in support group and the challenge of mingling socially with her peers in the Senate.
"When I go to dinner, it's me and eight guys," she said.
But the scarcity of women in the Legislature never was a barrier that prevented either Short or Moody-Lawrence from being forceful advocates for the causes they supported or the needs of the constituents they represented. And both of them have been providing that leadership for 16 years.
In a valedictory speech last week that commanded the attention of all in the House chamber, Moody-Lawrence exhorted her colleagues to "improve the human condition." She told them to work for ordinary people of every nationality, every age group, every income level, every ethnic group. She told them to "make life better for that little boy or girl, barefooted today, so they can be contributors to society, not fodder for prisons."
She knows whereof she speaks because those are the standards she has followed during her long tenure in the House.
Short came to the Senate with 10 years service on the Chester County school board, her final two years as chairwoman, so naturally she also became a tireless champion for improving education in the state. She played a key role in advancing the bill that created the First Steps program, which helps prepare pre-kindergarten children for school, and was able to vote this year on a successful effort to revamp the PACT test, one of her longtime goals.
Short has been everything a district could ask of a senator: intelligent, well informed, hard working and highly effective. Her leadership will be missed not only by her constituents but also her colleagues in the Senate and the residents of this state.
With so few women in the Legislature, South Carolina is missing out on a lot of unused talent, and the resignation of these two able women legislators merely compounds that problem. We hope their example has encouraged other women to follow in their footsteps.
Thanks to both Short and Moody-Lawrence from grateful residents throughout York, Chester, Fairfield and Union counties for their combined 32 years of devoted service to the state.
Short and Moody-Lawrence each have served in the Legislature for 16 years.
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