The Buzz

Lourie era draws to a close at the State House

State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, plans to start his 18th and final S.C. legislative session with a phone call from his mother, wishing him good luck.

It’s been a tradition of the past 17 years.

Then, Lourie will head to the State House complex for a meeting with fellow senators to begin working on a compromise to raise money to repair the state’s crumbling roads and bridges.

“Senator Lourie works well across the aisle,” said state Sen, Katrina Shealy, a Lexington County Republican.

When the 53-year-old Lourie ends his Senate career later this year, it will mark the end of a family political dynasty.

Lourie and his father, the late state Sen. Isadore Lourie, represented Richland County in the State House for 46 out of the last 52 years.

The younger Lourie was a member of the S.C. House for three terms before being elected to the Senate.

It took a while to get used to being called “Senator Lourie,” he recalled Monday. When he first the title being used, he wondered if his father was in the room.

Senate Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, served with both Louries.

“His daddy was the most caring and compassionate person I’d ever served with,” Setzler said, adding Joel Lourie also has those traits.

Joel Lourie “is fiercely determined on issues that he’s involved in,” Setzler said.

Lourie got started in politics after he graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1984 and ran his father’s re-election campaign.

That’s when he fell in love with politics. “I caught the bug.”

In 1998, Lourie was elected to the House.

Lourie said his mother, Susan Lourie, always has been his best campaigner.

“I’ve always taken my mom out to the toughest poll, which is usually a Republican-leaning poll, on Election Day, and we’ve never lost that precinct,” Lourie said.

A member of the minority

In his early years in office, Lourie was an outspoken advocate for removing the Confederate flag from the State House. Instead, a compromise was passed to remove the rebel banner from the dome and display it on the north lawn.

This past summer, Lourie cast a vote to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds in the aftermath of the Charleston church shooting. Lourie’s Senate colleague and friend, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, was killed in the shooting.

“Sometimes progress comes in increments,” he said.

As a Democrat, Lourie has been a member of the minority party for his entire tenure as a legislator.

Lourie said he has worked to get along with people from all walks of live and both political parties. “Although I’m a Democrat, I think, more importantly, I’m a South Carolinian first.”

The most frustrating part of being in the minority party is watching S.C. Republican leaders refuse to expand Medicaid to cover South Carolinians who earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid but make too little to qualify for federal subsidies for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, Lourie said.

“Because I work in health care and insurance, I see firsthand the people that are impacted by this state’s refusal to accept Medicaid,” said Lourie, an insurance broker.

State Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, said he is proud of Lourie’s efforts to expand Medicaid, a position that would benefit residents of Jackson’s Senate district but not necessarily Lourie’s more affluent constituents.

Jackson said Lourie is his “longest and dearest friend in the Senate.”

Lourie’s legislative accomplishments

Lourie’s State House resume includes successfully championing:

▪  Emma’s Law, which strengthened the state’s drunken driving laws, requiring an interlock device on the ignition of cars for all first-time drunken drivers who plead guilty or are convicted of driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.15 percent or higher. The measure is named after Emma Longstreet of Lexington, a 6-year-old killed when her family’s vehicle was struck by a repeat drunken driver as they headed to church on New Year’s Day 2012.

▪  Jacob’s Law, which barred child-care centers from using passenger vans to transport children. The law was named for 6-year-old Jacob Strebler, killed when a truck hit a school van he was riding in.

▪  Ryan’s Law, which requires insurance companies to cover children with autism. The law was named for Ryan Unumb, who was diagnosed with autism shortly before his second birthday.

▪  Raising the state’s cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack to 57 cents, as part of an effort to curb teen smoking.

Lourie also was on a state Senate panel tasked with investigating the Department of Social Services after thar agency was accused of not doing enough to prevent children under its watch from dying.

“Most people would think we wouldn’t be friends because our philosophies are not the same on most issues,” said Republican Shealy, who sits on the Social Services panel with Lourie.

But their shared passion for children’s issues brought the Democrat and Republican together, Shealy said.

When he retires from the Senate, Lourie expects to focus on his family and his insurance brokerage firm.

Lourie said he treats business like a campaign. “We’re going to pursue every opportunity there is to try to win,” he said, adding his campaigns have been about family, friends, and having the most bumper stickers, the most yard signs and the biggest list of supporters.

Going forward, Lourie said he plans to stay involved with health-care issues and in political races that he feels strongly about. But, he added, he has no plans to run for office again.

On Tuesday, Lourie will talk with his mother, then turn to a roads compromise. At noon, he’ll report to the Senate chambers.

“I intend to make the most out of my last year.”

Cassie Cope: 803-771-8657, @cassielcope

State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland

Residence: Arcadia Lakes

Age: 53

Education: University of South Carolina, bachelor’s degree in 1984

Family: Married to Becky Baum Lourie, two children

2016’s key legislative dates

Jan. 12 The S.C. Senate and House of Representatives convene at noon

May 1: Crossover deadline for bills that have not passed either the House or Senate to be considered this year

June 2: Last day of session