Originally created 04/09/06

Moore, Ryberg wins could be Aiken's losses



COLUMBIA - Relationships and experience are integral to legislative success - and the Aiken area could lose both to higher office.

Two of the Aiken County delegation's senators, Tommy Moore and Greg Ryberg, are running for statewide office - governor and state treasurer, respectively.

Their wins could raise the area's profile.

But, in Mr. Moore, the area has one of the Legislature's more senior members. He has served since 1979.

And, in Mr. Ryberg, the area has the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

"(A committee chairmanship) gives you opportunity to make decisions that potentially favor your friends and punish your enemies," said Blease Graham, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina. "It certainly puts you in the position to build political connections by setting priorities, making funding decisions, timing decisions."

So, in terms of legislative power, the leaders' success in gaining higher office could be Aiken's loss.

"I've had many, many people tell me, 'We're going to support you even though we've gotten pampered as far as you being in the Senate, but we'll let the other 40-some-odd counties' - and this is their words not mine - 'benefit from your leadership,'" said Mr. Moore, D-Clearwater.

Said Mr. Ryberg, R-Aiken: "I think we have got a great cross-section of elected officials representing the county that fill niches in either the House or the Senate, and I think that ability will still be there. I think to say that leaving would be a loss, I think that's for somebody else to judge."

Wins by Mr. Moore and Mr. Ryberg wouldn't leave the Aiken County delegation completely bereft of legislative tenure or influence.

Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-West Columbia, has served in the Senate since 1977 and is a member of five committees, including the powerful Finance Committee, which drafts the chamber's annual budget proposal.

The delegation also has two members, Reps. Bill Clyburn and Roland Smith, on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has the General Assembly's first shot at writing the annual budget.

Just being a member of those committees is significant, says Sen. Scott Richardson, R-Hilton Head Island, who two years ago traded a senior position on the Judiciary Committee for a spot on the Finance Committee.

"A seat at the Finance table is a seat at the Finance table," Mr. Richardson said. "Even if you're the newest member, you're several notches above those who aren't."

Mr. Smith, R-Langley, also is chairman of the House's Ethics Committee.

And regardless of committee positions or tenure, lawmakers say the formula for getting bills passed is the same for everyone: Cultivating relationships, building coalitions, proving you're trustworthy.

"In many ways, it's a very humble kind of position," Mr. Graham said.

Ultimately, too, any discussion this year of a legislative future without Mr. Ryberg or Mr. Moore might prove moot - their futures are far from certain.

Both senators are trying to unseat incumbents from the other party.

But, first, they have to win the June 13 primary.

Mr. Moore will face Florence Mayor Frank Willis and Columbia attorney Dennis Aughtry for the Democratic Party's gubernatorial nomination.

On Nov. 7, the Democratic nominee will try to beat the winner of the GOP primary between Gov. Mark Sanford and challenger Oscar Lovelace, a Lake Murray physician.