About 40,000 Lexington County residents lost their voice in the S.C. House last week when state Rep. Rick Quinn was indicted on public corruption charges and suspended from office.
But District 69’s voters – including about 4,000 who also lost their state senator to the State House corruption probe earlier this spring – soon learned they were being adopted.
“I promise to work with other Lexington County representatives to make sure you’re not forgotten and that help is just around the corner,” state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Lexington, told the district’s registered voters in a robocall last week.
Call it a sign of the times.
As legislators return to Columbia to pass a budget deal — assuming one can be made — some S.C. lawmakers will be working overtime to cover the more than 200,000 residents who have lost their representatives in the S.C. House this year.
State Reps. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley, and Quinn were suspended after being indicted in special prosecutor David Pascoe’s State House corruption probe. Both has denied any wrongdoing.
Former state Rep. Chris Corley, R-Aiken, resigned in January after his indictment on criminal domestic violence charges.
Former state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York, resigned his seat in February to focus on his successful GOP primary run in a race for Congress. And state Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, died unexpectedly just days later.
Meanwhile, the Senate has lost one of its members to Pascoe’s probe, state Sen. John Courson, R-Richland.
That has left some residents with no lifeline when their roads need fixing, when government red tape needs clearing or when a personal issue comes before the Legislature.
Lexington state Reps. Ballentine, Chip Huggins and Todd Atwater publicly have offered residents of Quinn’s district their help. Ballentine also is considering mailing postcards to District 69 residents who may not check their voicemail or social media.
“Most of the folks know us and, hopefully, know they can call us,” Huggins said.
Elsewhere across the Palmetto State, other legislators also have stepped into the gaps.
For example, S.C. House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, noticed Tega Cay — in Norman’s former Lake Wylie-area District 48 — had not applied for state parks and recreation grants this spring.
Simrill reached out to the city’s mayor, who was unaware money was available. The city later applied.
“I just wanted to make sure Tega Cay wasn’t left out because they didn’t have a House member to espouse what their need was,” Simrill said. “I’m glad we were able to step in and help.”
State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said he has taken greater responsibility for Neal’s lower Richland House District 70 and the environmental issues that Neal once championed.
That has meant spending more time studying flooding in rural Hopkins and working to ensure the Lower Richland Sweet Potato Festival keeps its funding, he said.
“It’s made me realize that I have less help now,” Jackson said. “I’m hoping we can get somebody that can step in and kind of fill Joe’s shoes.”
Aiken County’s legislative delegation is splitting up former state Rep. Corley’s load.
Some residents of District 84 still are calling former state Rep. Roland Smith, who held Corley’s seat for 26 years until 2014, for help.
Nowadays, like when a street sign was torn down a few weeks ago, Smith passes the concern along to his former House colleagues.
“Some of those issues may not look important to someone else, but to the person who has the problem, it’s critically important,” Smith said.
State Rep. Bill Hixon, R-Aiken, says the Aiken delegation has been happy to step in. He currently is pushing the state Transportation Department to install a stoplight in Corley’s district at a heavily trafficked intersection near an elementary school.
“Lately, it’s been something every week,” Hixon said. “If they need something, they just need to let us know, and we’ll be glad to respond.”