In three decades as a S.C. House member, Grady Brown never has missed a day.
Tuesday was no different as Brown, the longest-serving House member, started his 31st year in the Legislature as the 121st General Assembly convened.
Brown, 70, compares his excitement on each Monday night of the Legislature’s Tuesday-through-Thursday sessions to a child eagerly awaiting Santa Claus.
And, just like Christmas, a present was sitting on Brown’s desk Tuesday — a new legislative license plate with the No. 1 on it, reflecting the Lee County Democrat’s tenure.
But some things are new every year at the State House, including, this year, the House’s leadership.
New House Speaker Jay Lucas is the fifth House leader that Brown has served under during his time as a lawmaker.
Brown praised Lucas Tuesday as being “very personable,” adding he expects the Darlington Republican to bring lawmakers of both parties toward the center.
Reform to toughen the state’s ethics laws — a key issue this session — likely will pass under Lucas’ guidance, Brown predicted Tuesday, adding he also expects the state’s crumbling roads and bridges to be addressed.
Education also will much discussed by lawmakers due to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the state has not done enough for rural students.
State Sen. John Courson, R-Richland, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said this session is a tremendous opportunity for K-12 education, citing Gov. Nikki Haley’s education priorities, reflected in her executive budget released Monday. Courson also lauded incoming state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman as the most-qualified person to step into the job of superintendent during his three-decade-long legislative tenure.
The first day of the new session brought changes for some legislators, too.
State Sen. Ronnie Sabb, for instance, spent his day on the opposite side of the State House lobby than he was accustomed to. The Williamsburg Democrat was elected to the state Senate in a special election after serving four years in the House.
Sabb said the 46-member Senate is more intimate than the 124-member House, which he described as more animated.
Tuesday, new Speaker Lucas reigned in the more rowdy House and got down to business within 20 minutes after noon, with almost all members seated.
Brown expects the House to be more orderly under Lucas.
A new House member, Mary Tinkler, D-Charleston, holds the seat held by former Republican Speaker Bobby Harrell. Harrell entered a guilty plea to charges of misusing campaign money on personal expenses and resigned in October.
“I have been very welcomed, whether it’s by Democrats or by Republicans here in Columbia,” Tinkler said.
Reflecting on his three decades in the House, Rep. Brown said being a representative is about looking after the people’s issues.
Brown said a former member once told him that might become the best orator or the best dressed at the State House, but “if you forget who sent you, those back home will ... bring you back home.”