By Jodi Helmer
The elected officials who represent the Marlboro Electric Cooperative membership are diverse, dedicated professionals who bring differing personal and professional backgrounds to support constituents living in multiple counties within the Pee Dee region.
This fall, MEC members will cast their ballots for elected officials who will serve in state offices, including the South Carolina House of Representatives and the South Carolina Senate.
We talked to four local elected officials to learn more about their paths to politics, accomplishments in office, and hopes for the future of Dillion and Marlboro counties.
The Community Champion
In 2014, when community members asked Patricia Moore Henegan to run for the South Carolina House of Representatives in District 54, she said no.
“I have never served in a position like that before,” she says. “At that particular time, I felt like someone else could do it better. A local pastor called me and said, ‘God is the warrior. He just wants your voice,’ and I agreed to do it. I’m so glad I ran.”
Henegan is preparing to run for her fourth term. Politics may seem like a significant departure from her earlier career. Henegan started as a school secretary, earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees, and worked in positions ranging from teaching assistant and assistant principal to assistant superintendent of personnel and evaluator for the South Carolina State Department of Education. She believes her background has helped her be a more dedicated public servant.
“Being able to sincerely support my community and make decisions that I thought would benefit my district as well as the state of South Carolina … I’ve committed to serve individuals in the county,” she says.
Through the past six years, Henegan has served on several committees, including the Judiciary and Legislative Oversight committees and the Administration and Regulations, Banking and Consumer Affairs, and Business and Commerce subcommittees. She is vice-chair and incoming chair of the Black Caucus.
Henegan counts the Man2Man Fatherhood Initiative—a program that offers education and services to men who want to rebuild their lives and their families—as one of her most significant accomplishments.
“In 1998, when many fathers were being locked up for not giving their child support, we were trying to find an initiative that would help them get jobs and take them out of the prison system,” she says. “I’ll never forget when we set up the Man2Man Fatherhood Initiative and those fathers realized what we were doing to help them. It meant a lot to me.”
The community still faces significant challenges, and Henegan is running as the incumbent for District 54 to continue serving her community. She wants to expand job opportunities in rural communities and promote educational pathways to ensure local workers are ready to step into jobs.
“Most of the positions we have here require skills,” she says. “We need to make sure people have those skills, take those opportunities, and work hard to make sure they do well in the subject areas so they can come out and make a difference.”
Henegan says she is grateful to the community members who encouraged her to run for office. She is proud of the positive changes she has made in Chesterfield, Darlington, and Marlboro counties.
“I just feel like God had a purpose, and my purpose was to help other people and be there to make a difference,” she says. “I prayed that I have made a difference and that the work I’ve done speaks for me.”
The Team Leader
Jackie “Coach” Hayes, South Carolina House of Representatives District 55, believes politics and football have a lot in common.
“I’ve got this philosophy that a lot of times in life you get knocked down, and how you get back up determines what kind of person you are,” he says. “My approach has always been about trying to be a team player and making a team effort—getting people working together for the same cause.”
Hayes first ran for South Carolina House of Representatives District 55 in 1999. At the time, the unemployment rate in the district was 16% and few opportunities existed for constituents to find jobs and earn a living. Hayes—who grew up in Dillon, played football at the high school and has served as athletic director and head football coach for almost four decades—ran for election to push for change.
During Hayes’ tenure in the House, the district has attracted several new industries, including Inland Port Dillon, Wyman Gordon, and Harbor Freight Tools, and watched others like Purdue Farms expand the number of career opportunities in the region.
“We didn’t have a good industry base back then, but we’ve been able to expand that,” Hayes says. “Before this [coronavirus] pandemic came along, our unemployment rate was almost down to zero.”
Hayes credits Marlboro Electric Cooperative for helping recruit industries through startup funds and support obtaining economic development grants.
Going into the fall election, Hayes will run for his 12th term. He says his goal is to continue tackling issues in the community and racking up big wins.
Education is at the forefront of his agenda. Under his leadership, Dillon County passed a 1 cent sales tax increase in 2007 that contributed to the construction of three new schools: Latta Elementary School, Dillion Middle School, and Lake View High School. Hayes wants to build a single school to replace East Elementary, Stewart Heights Elementary, and South Elementary.
“From an economic standpoint, all the schools are 70 to 80 years old, and they’re outdated,” he explains. “It costs a tremendous amount of money to keep them up. [Building a new school] will provide a tremendous opportunity for the district, setting them in good standing for at least the next 50 years.”
Hayes also wants to ensure everyone who graduates in his district is prepared to enter the workforce.
“We need to train our people to be a lot more ready to go out into the workforce,” he says. “We need to get people into trade areas and make sure they are ready to go on day one.”
The desire to continue advocating for change and giving back to the community where he was born and raised made Hayes want to seek re-election this fall.
“Since I’ve been the football coach, we’ve won over 300 games,” he says. “We’ve been in 14 state championships, and we’ve won seven. From a legislative standpoint, we’ve really been able to grow our county. There are numerous opportunities out there that—I’ll be honest—I never thought would be possible. I want to keep reaching out to people and helping make change.”
State Sen. Kent Williams, District 30, has deep roots in South Carolina. He was born and raised in Marion County. He earned an associate degree in science from Florence-Darlington Technical College and a Bachelor of Science degree from South Carolina State University before accepting positions in government and higher education. In 2004, Williams was elected to the South Carolina Senate for District 30.
“I have always felt a call to service, especially to serve the community that shaped me,” he says. “My biggest motivating factor to enter politics was wanting to make sure my neighbors were fairly represented.”
During his tenure, Williams has served on several committees, including Agriculture and Natural Resources and Fish, Game and Forestry, where his upbringing on a farm proved valuable.
Organizations such as the South Carolina Advocates for Agriculture, Farm Bureau, and South Carolina Poultry Association recognized Williams for his commitment to constituents, naming him Legislator of the Year in 2018.
“Every experience and element of my background shaped me to be the person and the senator I am today,” Williams says. “My service in the South Carolina Senate revolves around my ability to connect my constituents, understand what they’re going through, and offer viable solutions. Being a lifelong member of the community, service is a solid foundation to that.”
Williams knows South Carolinians face big issues, such as inadequate public education, lack of economic opportunities, and rising health care costs. He has worked to address those in the Senate, but he is also committed to helping constituents with smaller issues.
“If a constituent is facing any struggle, I want them to know that I am willing to help find a solution,” he says. “No issue is too small.”
In addition to serving in the South Carolina Senate, Williams is deputy county administrator for Marion County.
Living in Marion County and working in Columbia makes Williams keenly aware that constituents in urban and rural areas have distinctly different needs. Parts of South Carolina, such as Marlboro County, are vastly different than Columbia, Greenville, or Charleston, and, sometimes, one-size-fits-all policies aren’t the best idea.
In Marlboro County and other rural areas, Williams believes education is going to be important in this election cycle. He wants to fully fund public schools and pay teachers fairly so children can get the best education and rebuild a strong economy in the wake of the coronavirus.
When he runs for his fifth term this fall, Williams wants to continue challenging himself to see all sides of an issue and advocate for the needs of all south Carolinians, collaborating for positive change.
“The Senate can make great change for all South Carolinians,” he says. “The laws that are passed in Columbia touch every aspect of life, from what’s taught in schools to which roads are paved. If there is an issue facing my constituents, no matter the subject, I’ll be working to pass a law that makes their lives better.”
State Sen. Gerald Malloy, District 29, started his career in politics while he was still in college.
Malloy worked as a page for Rep. Jean Laney Harris and state Sen. John Charles Lindsay while he was a student at the University of South Carolina. After graduating with his Juris Doctorate, he accepted a position to work with Sen. Edward Saleeby at Saleeby Law Firm in Hartsville.
“I knew exactly how serving in the state senate would directly affect the lives of South Carolinians,” Malloy recalls. “In offices like the Senate, it’s not your office; it’s the people’s seat. Our job is to honor the responsibility of that office and to hold it in trust for the people.”
In addition to serving in the state senate, Malloy also maintains a successful law practice, Malloy Law Firm, in Hartsville, and applies his legal background to his work in government. He has served on several committees, including Judiciary, Legislative Oversight and Rules, and remained active in his community in roles ranging from chairman of the Public Defenders Board of Darlington County Bar Association to member of the Judicial Qualifications Committee of the South Carolina Bar Association. Malloy was first elected to the state senate in 2002.
“Since I’ve been elected, what I have worked hard at doing was to make certain that there were not two South Carolinas, one rural and one urban,” he says.
Malloy grew up on a farm. His father worked as a butcher, and his mother worked as a sewing machine operator; neither graduated from high school. Many youth in the Chesterfield, Darlington, Lee, and Marlboro counties—the districts Malloy represents in the state senate—still face similar struggles in their quest to build successful lives.
“There’s a need to make sure that our residents have access to affordable and accessible health care and critical infrastructure such as broadband and a good public education,” he says.
Although Malloy has drafted and sponsored many bills throughout his career, he is most proud of the South Carolina Indigent Defense Act of 2007 and the Omnibus Crime Reduction and Sentencing Reform Act of 2010. The 2007 legislation moved public defenders from disparate nonprofit groups to each of the 16 judicial circuits within the state. The 2010 bill released nonviolent criminals from prison to the supervision of probation and parole officers, saving South Carolina in excess of $500 million. The Omnibus Crime Bill earned national acclaim.
Malloy also used his legal skills to speak out against voter identification bills, which he believes are not working in the best interests of his constituents in District 29. He testified about the impact of redistricting in Washington, D.C. The work, he admits, took hundreds of legal hours but was the best chance to ensure adequate representation in his rural district.
Malloy is running for his 10th term this fall and hopes to change the conversations around politics.
“The polarization of politics is a big problem that we face,” he says. “I have to remind people that we are South Carolinians first and foremost. We have major issues like education, health care, criminal justice—these are not issues belonging to any one party but issues that affect all of us,” he says. “This is not about partisanship. It’s about people.”