Longest currently serving state senator in US plans to retire in South Carolina

Longest currently serving state senator in US plans to retire in South Carolina

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The longest-serving U.S. senator does not plan to run for re-election in South Carolina this year.

The Democratic Rep. Nikki Setzler was elected to the Senate in 1976 and has served in the Senate ever since. He said after prayerful consideration, he knew it was time to end his 47 years of public service in the Senate and seek a new journey.


“Serving the people of South Carolina has been the honor of my life. Thank you for your trust in me, for the opportunity to serve you and for taking this journey with me,” Setzler said in an op-ed published in The State newspaper.

When Setzler came to the Senate in 1977, there were 43 Democrats and three Republicans. Today there are 30 Republicans, 15 Democrats and one independent.

Setzler remained a Democrat even as his district, anchored in suburban Lexington County west of Columbia, became one of the most Republican-dominated areas in the state and many fellow Democrats switched parties.

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Setzler served as Senate Minority Leader for eight years. He was known as a down-to-earth voice and someone who would keep a deal and a secret.

Current Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey said Setzler was instrumental in helping the state weather the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and when state-owned Santee Cooper became linked. ​with the private utility company South Carolina Electric. & Gas in a proposed nuclear power plant that cost billions of dollars and never produced a watt of power.

Setzler became a crucial minority voice during budget work, relied on by longtime Republican committee chairmen who lead the Senate Finance Committee.

Setzler said he was most proud of bringing four-year kindergarten to the state, raising teacher salaries, expanding roads and highways as the state adds more than 1 million people and sets aside money to to preserve land.

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“This journey was not about accolades or prizes. It’s about making a difference,” Setzler wrote in the newspaper.

Redistricting after the 2020 U.S. Census put Setzler and Democratic Sen. Dick Harpootlian in the same district. And his voters increasingly voted for his Republican challengers.

Setzler received 66% of the vote in his first re-election in 1980. In 2000, when Republicans took control of the Senate, this was down to 58%. And the lawyer received 54% of the vote to win a twelfth term.

In 2023, Setzler became the nation’s longest-serving senator when North Dakota Senator Ray Holmberg left office. Setzler’s colleagues honored him with a resolution.