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Politics: Ryan calls it quits after one term in the House

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

For the first time in more than 15 years, there won’t be an incumbent in the next election for state House District 108.

State Rep. Kevin Ryan, a Republican from the Pawleys Island area, said this week that he won’t seek re-election when his first term expires next year.

“While I have a strong passion for public service and enjoy my work in the House, I have career interests outside of elected office that I would like to pursue,” he said.

At 23, Ryan is the youngest member of the General Assembly. He graduated from Clemson University in 2009 and was a graduate student at the College of Charleston when he ran for election last year, beating a 14-year incumbent.

Now, he’s looking for a full-time job.

“One of the realities of serving in the General Assembly is that opportunities for private sector employment are somewhat limited,” Ryan said. “With one of the longest legislative sessions in the country, we are in Columbia three days each week from January until June. This, in addition to the commitments required back here in District 108, make it extremely challenging to begin any sort of career.”

For several months, he “wrestled” with whether a commitment to serve another two-year term was “the right thing to do given that many of my career opportunities would take me away from District 108,” he said.

He planned to announce his decision next week, but word started circulating earlier than he intended, prompting him to step up the time line.

Jim Jerow, chairman of the Georgetown County Republican Party, is saddened by Ryan’s news, but understands the necessity of it.

“I had high hopes for Kevin and his political career, but he has to make a decision on what’s best for himself and his future,” Jerow said. “He was a candidate who found his way during the campaign and ran a strong race. Voters liked what they saw and heard from him, and he did a good job in his first session.”

So close to the announcement, Jerow said he isn’t aware of anyone with plans to run for District 108, but he’s hopeful a good candidate will step forward and the GOP won’t have to recruit one.

“We’re anxious to get this redistricting done, then we can sort of see where the lay of the land is,” he said.

When political lines were redrawn this year to accommodate population changes reflected in the 2010 census, the lines for District 108 were maneuvered to include fewer left-leaning voter precincts. It’s a move Republicans talked about for years while they tried to unseat Ryan’s predecessor, Democrat Vida Miller.

The new lines are still awaiting federal approval.

“If redistricting comes out the way it was designed, I think it will be a Republican district,” Jerow said.

Tom Swatzel, former party chairman and owner of a campaign consulting business, is optimistic about the election of a Republican successor for Ryan.

“Kevin showed that through hard work and good campaign strategy, a Republican could win the House district,” he said. “I think with the new district lines, the likelihood of strong turnout of energized conservative voters in the presidential race, and the fact that the county GOP is very well-funded and organized, a Republican is now even more likely to win the district in 2012 than ever, no matter who the Democrats put up as a candidate.”

There has been much speculation since Ryan’s election that Miller’s name would be back on the ballot in 2012, but she hasn’t said definitively whether another run for office is in her future.

It’s “a wide open race” and whoever runs the best campaign will take the seat, Jerow said.

“As chairman of the Republican Party, I’m looking forward to 2012,” Jerow said. “It’s an election important for the country, for the state and for the county. The most important thing people can do is vote, but also get to know the potential candidates and what they stand for so they vote for the right person.”

Ryan said his service in the House has been “the honor and privilege of a lifetime,” and offers thanks to supporters.

For the remainder of his term, he pledged to continue to serve “with a focus on helping to bring about some of the reforms that are so desperately needed in state government.”

“When we return to Columbia in January, I am planning an ambitious legislative agenda to do just that,” he added.

Beyond that, “I have every intention of remaining involved in the issues that affect the future of our great state,” he said. “I look forward to starting that next chapter of involvement.”

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