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SC gains its sixth female senator to start this year's legislative session: South Carolina now has six women in its Senate. 12 years ago, it had none.


Author: Jeffrey Collins Associated Press

Published: 7:16 PM EST January 9, 2024

Updated: 7:16 PM EST January 9, 2024

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Tameika Isaac Devine didn't break a glass ceiling when she took her oath of office Tuesday to be South Carolina's newest senator, but she did pull her state up from having the least number of women in its upper chamber.

South Carolina now has six women in its Senate. They are still a small enough group that they sometimes band together across party lines as the “Sister Senators," such as when they fought stricter abortion regulations last year or worked to expand child care options.

South Carolina had no women in its Senate until the election of Republican Katrina Shealy in 2012.

“You break the ceiling and they come from everywhere,” said a smiling Shealy, who fought misunderstandings and endured a few sexist comments when she first joined the chamber.

It's been a busy year for the Sister Senators. They were awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for their work to block a state ban on abortions after cardiac activity is detected — usually around six weeks of pregnancy. They argued that women need at least a few more weeks to even realize they are pregnant and to make what is a momentous decision. The bill ultimately passed despite their efforts.

Devine won a special election for a Columbia area seat that opened up when Sen. John Scott died in 2023. She campaigned in part on a platform of bringing more women into office.

Devine's election means women now make up 13% of the South Carolina Senate, up from a previous lowest-in-the-nation rank of 10%. Alabama has the least, with 11%; West Virginia, the second-least, at 11.8%; and Louisiana the third-least, at 12.8%, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.

The women who do hold office in South Carolina are trying to recruit others across the political spectrum. Democratic Rep. Spencer Wetmore introduced a bill allowing candidates to use donations to pay for child care while they are campaigning.

In a speech after she was sworn in, Devine hinted at the difficult juggling act female candidates have to manage, as she thanked her college-age daughter and her elementary and middle school-age sons.

“Sometimes it's not easy when I miss story time or maybe something at school, but they know I am here to work for the citizens of South Carolina and that gives them pride," said Devine, who spent 20 years as a Columbia City Councilwoman before being knocked out of politics for a bit after she lost a run for mayor in 2021.

Shealy and the other women in the Senate welcomed Devine with open arms. But they said they are still Republicans and Democrats.

“Yes, we're like sisters. So we fight sometimes. We don't agree on everything, but we agree this state needs to take a good look at women's issues,” Shealy said.

Also sworn in Tuesday was Sen. Deon Tedder, who at 33 is now the youngest South Carolina senator by six years. The Charleston Democrat won a special election for a seat left open when Marlon Kimpson left for a job in President Joe Biden's administration.

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