Midlands Lawmaker Leaves His Mark

5:26 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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Orangeburg, SC (WLTX) -- You do not always have to look in the history books to celebrate Black History Month.  One Midlands senator is leaving his own mark on South Carolina today.

"Never in my wildest moment as a kid, did I think I would be in the general assembly," said Orangeburg County Senator John Matthews.

From the school house to the State House, he has spent much of his life serving his community under the dome.

"I was elected to the house back in 1975.  I was a school teacher, after I got elected I was a principal and so I did serve concurrently as a principal and in the House of Representatives," recalled Matthews. 

Now 38 years later, Matthews is the longest serving African-American state lawmaker, and the first African-American to hold the position of assistant minority leader in the Senate. He has also served a leader of the Black Caucus.

Matthews says his work has always come down to education and economics.

"Children only represent about 25 percent of our core population, but they're 100 percent of our future. So if you want to talk about the future you've got to deal with children, and if the community does not deal with out children then we don't have a future," he said.

That philosophy has remained even as he transitioned from the House to the Senate in 1985 after winning both seats.

"I had to make a decision where I was gonna go," said Matthews. "One of the reporters asked me, 'now that you're elected to both the house and the senate, which one are you going to accept?' I said you've gotta be kidding! I lost eight pounds, spent bookoos of money, are you kidding? I'm going to the senate!"

But making laws has not always been easy. Matthews says voting to bring the confederate flag off the state house was the most difficult decision he had to make because he preferred a different option. 

"My plans were to vote against it and the final, after meeting with folk, I changed my vote and voted for it. That was one of the most difficult votes I ever had," said Matthews. "I thought putting it where it is was putting in your face."

Still, with the highs and lows, for Matthews being a first or serving the longest is not what it is all about.

"When I first got elected I was sitting on the back row, but the ability to move from the back row to the front row is important for symbolism purposes ,but I think more important is how do we be able to get some stuff done in the General Assembly that impacts the citizens that we serve," he said. 

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