The Buzz

Columbia senator will leave rare open seat in 2016

State Rep. Joel Louie in 2014 during testimony about woes at the state Department of Social services.
State Rep. Joel Louie in 2014 during testimony about woes at the state Department of Social services. FILE PHOTOGRAPH

After he finishes his 18th year in the S.C. Legislature next year, state Sen. Joel Lourie will not seek re-election for his northeast Richland seat.

The Columbia Democrat announced his plans Sunday in an op-ed in the The State newspaper. First elected to the state House in 1998 and the Senate in 2004, Lourie said he wants to focus on family and developing his insurance consulting business.

The move will create a rare open Senate seat that likely will attract many candidates, he and other lawmakers say.

Two Democratic women and up-and-coming legislators could vie for the seat, creating a chance to increase the number of seats women hold in the body.

State Reps. Beth Bernstein and Mia McLeod are the only two legislators other than Lourie who live in District 22, which spans the northeastern part of the county and parts of Kershaw County.

Bernstein said she is “seriously considering” running to serve the community where she was “born and raised” more broadly.

“Part of the reason why I’m serving is he has been that example for me,” Bernstein said of Lourie, her friend and mentor whose synagogue she also attends. “So of course I would think about succeeding him, but it’s got to come down to a conversation with my family.”

Also driving her interest, she said, is the chance to increase the number of women in the Senate, where only one woman, Lexington Republican Katrina Shealy, now serves.

McLeod also said she’s “strongly considering” running for the Senate seat next year. Filing opens in March.

Other residents of the influential district also will want the seat, and people might move there to run, said Lourie’s long-time friend and legislative ally state Rep. James Smith, D-Richland.

Lourie’s absence will leave a void, Smith said, adding that his colleagues regard him as one of the body’s most effective legislators.

Last year, Lourie was among the most vocal and persistent critics of the state’s child-welfare agency, contributing to pressure that resulted in a change in leadership at the agency.

Lourie said it is too early to talk about whether he will back any candidates in the race next year. He also has no plans to run for higher office now or later, he said, cautioning, “never say never.”

Lourie’s exit will bring to a close a history of his family in the Legislature. His father Isadore Lourie was in the General Assembly from 1965-1992.

“When I was fortunate enough to win this Senate seat in 2004, I had to pinch myself, because for years, when they would call out Sen. Lourie, it’s always been my dad. ... It’s something to reflect upon and appreciate.”

Reach Self at (803) 771-8658

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