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After nearly 14 years representing Lancaster County and House District 44 in Columbia, S.C. Rep. Jimmy Neal (D) said Friday he will not seek re-election in 2012.
Neal’s announcement came just two days after a Heath Springs business owner announced his intention to challenge Neal for the District 44 seat in this year’s general election.
Neal, 69, said the decision to step down at the end of his seventh term in office was one he made months ago after careful consideration.
Neal said though he discussed the decision with family, friends and colleagues, he wanted to wait until after the holidays to make the decision public.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time in the Legislature and I love being able to help serve people,” Neal said. “This is my 47th year dealing with and serving the public, and all the things I’ve ever done have been time-consuming efforts.
“As I look down the road (the rest of the year), I know I have a lot of hard work to do,” he said, “but I’m getting to the age where it’s time to settle down and relax a bit. I’m ready to take some time for myself and my family.”
A Kershaw native, Neal retired as principal of Andrew Jackson High School in 1995 after a 30-year career as an educator at Lancaster County schools.
Over the years, Neal also played an active role in Kershaw and the county, including service on the Lancaster County Literacy Council and an eight-year stint in the 1980s with the Lancaster County Election Committee.
In the S.C. Legislature, Neal serves as first vice-chairman of the House Education and Public Works Committee and chairman of the Department of Motor Vehicles Subcommittee.
Neal said when he gets back to Columbia next week he’ll take over as chairman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee for the remainder of his term at the request of Education Committee chairman Rep. Phil Owens (R-5).
“I was honest with him and I told him at the time that I would not be coming back,” Neal said. “He said that was OK, that he wanted me as the K-12 committee chair anyway. I felt it was an honor and I’m looking forward to the challenge because this has been my life.”
He said Friday was an “emotional day” for him because of the announcement.
Neal said he’s enjoyed working with the Lancaster County delegation in Columbia and thanked the people of Lancaster County who supported him and allowed him to serve.
Though he’s leaving an open Democratic seat, Neal steered clear of making any suggestions as to who he believed should run for his seat.
“Oh no, I’ve kind of figured out that I should just mind my own business,” Neal said. “Of course, I’m interested in a good person to take my seat, but I’ll let other folks make that decision.”
Among the first people Neal told of his decision, he said, was Lancaster County Democratic Party Chairman Gil Small, a man who will play a role in helping find a Democrat to fill Neal’s seat.
Small said he hates to lose a good legislator like Neal, but he “understands where he’s coming from.”
“Just like he said, Columbia has really become a hard place to get things done. Jimmy’s gotten tired, and I understand that, too,” Small said. “He’s given us 14 years, and he’s done an excellent job.
“He’s never really had a day to himself, so to speak, and after 14 years, that gets to wear on you pretty good,” Small said. “We’ll miss him in the county, I promise you that, Democrats and Republicans both. He’s been good for Lancaster County.”
Small said the party has a candidate to run for the District 44 seat, but is not ready to make the announcement just yet.
He said in the meantime, the party is going to concentrate on its precinct reorganization meetings Jan. 28 and the county Democratic convention March 15.
The filing period for partisan candidates begins at noon March 16 and runs through noon March 30.
“This year, with all the presidential nomination mess, we’ll just let the Republicans battle it out between themselves for now,” Small said. “We’ll be picking up speed and once we get down the road with some of these things like the precinct reorganization and our county convention, we’ll be full speed ahead.”
Regardless of who the Democratic candidate is, there will be a race.
On Wednesday, Heath Springs resident Joseph Coy announced his intentions to run as a Republican for the District 44 seat.
Coy, 41, the owner of J.A.C. Drywall and Coy’s Woodworking, has lived in Heath Springs since 1995.
Coy said one of his primary reasons for getting into the race is to help create private sector jobs in Lancaster County, in part, through the establishment of a vocation high school and more career centers.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151