Martin moving on, Rice eager to begin after Senate runoff

By Greg Oliver
Courtesy The Journal

COUNTY — For the first time in 38 years, Larry Martin won’t be going to Columbia come January to serve in the state legislature.

First elected to the S.C. House of Representatives in 1979 and to the State Senate in 1992, Martin saw his bid for another four-year term end last week when challenger Rex Rice defeated him in a runoff election. Rice, a former House member, received 6,010 votes to Martin’s 5,076.

“It is what it is,” Martin said following the vote. “You have to respect the voters’ wishes, and I do. But I would be less than truthful if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I would also be less than truthful if I said I wasn’t surprised, as voters are saying they’re mad and don’t want their elected leaders to be in office any longer.”

Martin said he is appreciative to his company for allowing him to serve in Columbia for nearly four decades, and especially to his family for the time spent away from home through the years.

“They expect a little payback from me, and I’m glad to do that,” Martin said, adding that he doesn’t envision himself seeking elected office again. “It’s clearly time for other folks, and I think it’s time to enjoy my family and transition into the next phase. I’ve got a sweet, loving family and much to be proud of.”

Martin admitted he will miss representing his constituents in Columbia. While serving, Martin said he tried to bring “a business, common-sense perspective to things.”

“I believe I’ve been able to do that but hope I came out of it with my integrity intact,” Martin said. “I was there when some pretty serious stuff broke out on the House side called ‘lost trust,’ and that sort of tarnished us all with the stench of the ethics issues that developed as a result.

“Having served all these years, there has never been a question of my motivation for serving and my personal integrity of trying to uphold the confidence people hold in me. Growing up, you didn’t want to do something to embarrass your family and, consequently, you didn’t want to go to Columbia and embarrass the people who sent you there and who you represented.”

Rice said he appreciates those who stood behind him and made the runoff victory possible.

“What’s neat to me is that we have a great team of folks over here, and they’ve stepped up and helped us accomplish a goal, a pretty tough goal,” Rice said. “It’s not me — it’s the team, the people on the ground, my wife and daughters and guidance from above. I don’t know how many people said they were praying for me, and I mean sincerely praying.”

Rice said his supporters knocked on doors and he worked hard to be accessible to the public throughout the campaign.

“I stood out for a long time, waving to people and standing in 95-degree heat,” he said. “(Voters) probably thought if this guy was standing out in 95-degree heat, he was worth voting for.”

Although they formerly served together on the Pickens County Legislative Delegation, Rice also challenged Martin for the Senate seat in 2012 as a petition candidate. Rice lost that election, but last week’s runoff saw a much different result.

“I think Larry has done a great job in the county, but the voters decided it was time for him to move on,” Rice said. “I believe the Lord puts us where he wants, and I believe this is where he wants me at this time. I want to thank the people of Pickens County for giving me the chance to work for them.”

Rice is no stranger to the state legislature, having formerly served in the State House of Representatives from 1994-2010.

However, this will mark Rice’s first foray into the Senate. Although he hasn’t served in Columbia for several years, Rice said his familiarity with the legislature and the process involved will create less of a learning curve than it might for someone elected for the first time.

“Without a doubt, I know where the bathrooms are,” Rice joked. “It takes about two years to find the bathrooms.”

Turning serious, Rice added, “I know about the rules, the process and have a lot of friends down there. There are a lot of folks I know.”

Rice said he already has several goals on his list.

“We need to improve our road safety,” Rice said. “I know we got a start on it with funding this year.”

Another goal Rice has is to work closely with Pickens County Council — which will also feature three newly elected members come January after last week’s runoffs — in the area of economic development.

“We need to figure out how to create new jobs,” he said. “When we put the Pickens County (Commerce) Park in years ago, that got us started, but I don’t think we’ve achieved as much as we need to.”