State Sen. Jake Knotts — champion of constituent service, critic of Gov. Nikki Haley and accused disruptor of this year’s primary elections — said he has not decided whether his next term will be his last.
The self-proclaimed crude and controversial Lexington County Republican has said on occasion that he would retire after another four years in the Senate. But Knotts, 68, indicated this week that he might not be ready to end his life in public service.
“I got a physical today. I’m good for another 40 years,” Knotts said. “It will depend on what’s left that I want to accomplish (at the State House).”
Knotts mentioned how he has built seniority in the Senate that could aid in getting some more parks in Lexington County, bolstering the Special Olympics, fighting autism and protecting senior citizens, “since I’m becoming one myself.”
Haley, who has butted heads with Knotts and stumped for his opponent, would like to see him leave the Senate soon.
“Jake Knotts represents all that is wrong with South Carolina politics, and every person in South Carolina — except maybe Jake — will be better off when he is no longer part of our political system,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
The decision will come down to Knotts’ family, especially his grandchildren, he said. Knotts recognizes that he has lost time with his wife and daughters while working for years in law enforcement and serving 18 years in the General Assembly — eight in the House and 10 in the Senate.
“It will be a call when we sit down at the family dinner table,” Knotts said.
In the general election, he likely will face a petition candidate in Katrina Shealy, who lost against Knotts four years ago. Shealy was among the more than 250 candidates statewide tossed off last month’s primary ballot for failing to properly complete paperwork when they filed for the election.
Critics said Knotts was behind the lawsuit that led to the candidates’ ouster, since a former campaign worker was among the plaintiffs. Knotts denies he was behind the effort, though he supported it and believes many candidates were saved from spending thousands on campaigns that could be overturned.
“I did not realize it would be as big as it was,” Knotts said.
He stands by convictions, even if it angers friends.
After a Senate committee hearing in May, Roxanne Wilson, his one-time campaign manager and wife of U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, yelled at Knotts for his role in the debacle, because her sister was among the candidates ousted. But the longtime friends made up minutes later.
“I will never agree with everything he does,” Wilson said. “Jake is smarter than what people give him credit for. Jake operates that there is no education from the second kick of the mule.”
Knotts said he has built a successful career through constituent service, trying to follow through on requests sent in an annual survey to district voters, and honoring veterans and soldiers killed in action. He also said he has developed good communication with both sides of the aisle, which he knows earns him the label RINO — Republican in name only.
“(The parties) think you’re supposed to turn into the garage, open your trunk, take your brain out of your head and put it in the trunk, and come up here and do what everybody else and the leadership wants you to do,” he said.
Knotts also takes a different path with Haley. They appear to agree only on that they are both Lexington County Republicans.
“If she’s right, I’m going to back her. If she’s wrong, I’m going to tell her she’s wrong,” Knotts said. “She gets mad whenever you tell her she’s wrong. She never wants to be wrong. I’ll accept the fact that I’m wrong. I don’t have an ego to justify my existence. I think I have called her hand on a few things where she didn’t like her hand being called on. I don’t do things for political reasons.”
Haley’s office called Knotts’ remarks “disingenuous.”
The governor has backed Shealy — even speaking after a state GOP protest hearing trying to get her back on the ballot. The governor has accused Knotts of being part of the old political guard holding South Carolina back from reform, including her efforts to create a Department of Administration, and tarnished the state’s image by calling her and President Barack Obama a “raghead” in 2010.
Knotts, who apologized for the raghead comment, understands he’s controversial. He said his legacy is not the laws he has passed, but “the ones you stop. Once you get one passed, you’re not going to get it repealed.”
“Some people won’t accept the fact that I will stand my ground, come hell or high water, if it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing, I live by that.”
Knotts said he once convinced a state official to change a constituent’s erroneous birth certificate by offering to have the man pull down his pants to prove he was not a woman.
“If common sense is crude, then I’m crude,” Knotts said.
But he knows, the time is coming.
Knotts said his wife and children did not want him to run four years ago. One of his daughters carries a napkin that he signed that reads, “I want my daddy back.”
Knotts has watched many senators retire, including six this year. But still vivid is the death of a colleague, Bill Mescher, who suffered a stroke five years ago while in office.
“I don’t intend on dying in here,” Knotts said.