COLUMBIA - The longest-serving Republican woman in the South Carolina Legislature said today she's retiring to be a full-time grandma.
Rep. Annette Young of Summerville announced she will not run this year for a 10th term. The 57-year-old House member said she wants to devote more time to her 6-month-old granddaughter.
"For the past few months I have struggled with the idea that my service in the S.C. House is important enough to miss time with this beautiful child," she said in a statement. "But the truth is that while I am proud of the work we do, that work will never come to an end and it is time for someone else to pick up the mantle."
The mother of two and first-time grandmother was first elected to the House in 1990, and is tied for fifth overall as the chamber's longest-serving Republican.
She served as House majority leader in 1995-96, when she became the chamber's first Republican majority leader since Reconstruction, and she remains the only woman ever to have held the job. She has sat on the powerful budget-writing committee since 1998, and is currently its first vice chairman.
Before Republicans took control, she was chief minority whip. Though she lost the whip title, legislative leaders continued to count on her tenacity to push measures through.
"There's nobody who's more of a team player than Annette. That's something some of our newer caucus members don't understand," said Rep. Jim Merrill of Daniel Island, who stepped down as majority leader in 2008.
He said the House GOP has lost someone "who can lay things out there in a matter-of-fact way and not be intimidated by anybody. ... We don't have anybody I see now who can count votes and move legislation like Annette can do."
Young would have faced a challenge in the June 8 primary from Dorchester County Councilman Larry Hargett, who called Young's retirement announcement shocking. Hargett, who once supported Young, said residents of the district asked him to run against her. He has been campaigning for months, but made his bid official last week when filing opened. The state Club for Growth's political action committee has raised money to defeat Young, saying she wasn't conservative enough.
Hargett said Tuesday he appreciates Young's "legislative work for Dorchester County during the past 20 years, her dedication and unselfish commitment to issues."
As of their last campaign filing, Young had nearly $80,000 cash available, compared to almost $8,300 for Hargett.
Young was adamant Tuesday that Hargett's campaign had nothing to do with her decision.
"Absolutely nothing came into the decision except for a 6-month-old grandbaby. I've never walked away from a good fight. Those people don't intimidate me at all," she said, noting she baby-sits her granddaughter when she's not in session while her son and daughter-in-law work. "It's been very difficult this whole year, leaving my grandchild and coming up here every Tuesday. ... I don't want her to go into daycare."
Young is among just 17 women in the Legislature. South Carolina continues to rank last nationwide in the percentage of female legislators.