Gregory to step down from Senate

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By Jenny Hartley

The Republican state senator from Lancaster County won't be seeking re-election this year.

Sen. Chauncey K. "Greg" Gregory wrote a letter and called and e-mailed friends and associates earlier this week about his intentions.

In a letter sent to The Lancaster News, Gregory, 44, wrote that he has been blessed by the support of residents from Fort Mill to Kershaw and Winnsboro. When his term ends in 2008, he'll have served in the Senate "as long as anyone since the formation of Lancaster County," a total of 16 years.

"Therefore, it is with mixed emotions that I inform you that I will not seek re-election in 2008," Gregory wrote. "I have weighed this decision carefully because of my love for the Senate and the importance to the district of my seniority. And while the effects of seniority are powerful, it alone is not a valid reason to continue to hold office."

Gregory, the District 16 representative in the Senate, said he's had a hand in outlawing video poker, overhauling boating safety laws, fighting litter and resolving the Confederate flag issue. As chairman of the Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, Gregory said he was able to "devote energy to the preservation of open spaces, our environment and the creatures who are its inhabitants."

But Gregory said he's been frustrated for years that legislators will not restructure the state's government to give the governor appropriate authority. Efforts to raise the cigarette tax and pass clean air legislation have been quashed each year, which has also been frustrating, he said.

"I certainly understand how it would be easy to get frustrated with the system," said state House Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who recently finished his first year in office. "At the same time, I'm disappointed (about Gregory's decision). I think he was a tremendous ambassador for Lancaster County, and he was really starting to come into his own this year."

Mulvaney, R-District 45, described Gregory as a quiet force among state lawmakers and said Gregory is well-liked and respected in Columbia, perhaps more than the senator himself realizes.

"He's very well thought of in Columbia," Mulvaney said. "That doesn't come by accident."

State House Rep. Jimmy Neal, D-District 44, who has served with Gregory since 1999, said the senior senator was a big help to him starting out. Though the two are from opposite political parties, Neal said the local delegation has always worked well together for the district and the state as a whole.

"Let's be together to do the best we can - I'm very proud of that," Neal said.

Gregory said Thursday that he had originally planned to serve only two terms. But after the retirement of former local lawmakers Jim Hodges and Billy Boan, seniority was needed in the delegation, Gregory said. Then he was named chairman of the Fish, Game and Forestry Committee.

Gregory said it was very difficult telling his loyal staff in Columbia and his constituents here that he wouldn't be running for the seat again. He said he made his decision with mixed emotions.

"It's a 55-45 decision," he said, with a laugh. "I've accomplished what I set out to do, and I don't want to spend another four years working on a couple of issues. I think change is good in public service."

Time was another factor in Gregory's decision, he said.

"It's a very time-consuming job," said Gregory, who serves as president of his family's 100-year-old business, Builder's Supply Co. "It's essentially working two full-time jobs five months out of the year."

Gregory and his wife, Sherri, have a son, Marshall, 17, and a daughter, Ellen Gray, 15. Neither child can remember a time when their dad hasn't been a senator.

But Gregory's time isn't up yet.

The General Assembly reconvenes Tuesday, and Gregory still has a year to serve.

He plans on tackling two of his most frustrating issues - restructuring state government and raising the state's cigarette tax.

"We have the weakest governor in the country, something that has hamstrung our state for over 100 years," Gregory said. "Our cigarette tax is 5 percent of the national average."

Gregory's district covers Lancaster County north of Heath Springs and the Leslie, Catawba and Fort Mill areas of York County. He said he hasn't heard officially about anyone interested in taking his seat.

"It'll be interesting to see who comes out, because I've held the seat a long time," Gregory said.

Contact Jenny Hartley at 283-1151 or jhartley@thelancasternews.com