Longest currently serving state senator in US plans to retire in South Carolina

Jan 10, 2024, 11:52 AM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The longest currently serving state senator in the U.S. doesn’t plan to run for office again this year in South Carolina.

Democratic Rep. Nikki Setzler was elected to the Senate in 1976 and has served ever since. He said after prayerful consideration he knew it was time to end his 47 years of public service in the Senate and find a new journey.

“Serving the people of South Carolina has been the honor of a lifetime. Thank you for your faith in me, for the opportunity to serve you and for taking this journey with me,” Setzler said in an opinion piece published in The State newspaper.

When Setzler came to the Senate in 1977, there were 43 Democrats and three Republicans. Today there are 30 Republicans 15 Democrats and an independent.

Setzler remained a Democrat even as his district, anchored in the Lexington County suburbs west of Columbia, became one of the most Republican-dominated areas in the state and many fellow Democrats changed parties.

Setzler spent eight years as Senate Minority Leader. He was known as a level-headed voice and someone who would keep a deal and a secret.

Current Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said Setzler was instrumental in helping the state get through the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and when the state-owned utility Santee Cooper got tied up with private utility South Carolina Electric & Gas in a proposed nuclear plant that cost billions of dollars and never produced a watt of power.

Setzler became a vital voice in the minority during budget work, trusted by longtime Republican committee chairmen who run the Senate Finance Committee.

Setzler said he was proudest to bring 4-year-old kindergarten to the state, raise teacher pay, expand roads and highways as the state adds well over 1 million people and set aside money to conserve land.

“This journey has not been about accolades or awards. It’s been about making a difference,” Setzler wrote in the newspaper.

Redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census put Setzler and Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian in the same district. And his constituents were increasingly voting for his Republican challengers.

Setzler received 66% of the vote in his first reelection in 1980. It was down to 58% by 2000, when Republicans took over control of the Senate. And the attorney received 54% of the vote to win a 12th term.

In 2023, Setzler became the longest currently serving state senator in the country when North Dakota state Sen. Ray Holmberg left office. Setzler’s colleagues honored him with a resolution.

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Longest currently serving state senator in US plans to retire in South Carolina