As new members of the state legislature come to Columbia for orientation Monday, the Republican representative from Georgetown County will draw some attention.
That’s because Kevin Ryan is only 22 years old. A grad student from the College of Charleston, Ryan jokes a bit about being the same age as some of the interns.
I’ve heard stories of some older members confusing a younger member with being a page. So that could happen.
Ryan is a former intern himself, working in Governor Mark Sanford’s office last summer. He said it was an interesting experience after Sanford, as Ryan put it, “hiked the Appalachian trail.” Through a special program at the University of South Carolina, he will be able to take some classes towards his Masters degree when he’s not sitting in the Statehouse.
Ryan said he has always been interested in politics, but did not originally plan to run at such a young age. He said he got frustrated with how the legislature set its priorities, and decided to give it his own shot.
After doing a lot of complaining to those around me about what I perceived as problems, they said, ‘You know, instead of just talking about it, why don’t run and try to change it?” So I did, and here we are.
Ryan ran against and defeated longtime Democrat Vida Miller in the past election. Miller had represented the district, which stretches from Murrells Inlet to just outside Mount Pleasant, for 14 years.
He says even though he is a relative newcomer to Columbia, he believes he’ll have an advantage over his Democratic predecessor in one way. He’s a member of the majority party.
As a Republican, even as a freshman I’ll have a seat at the table that (Miller) did not. As a Democrat, even though she had some seniority, she still was not sitting at that leadership table. I will have a place there.
Ryan believes his campaign was able to resonate with frustrated voters in the state’s second-largest district. He admits that being a Republican in a good year nationwide for the GOP helped.
He says South Carolina’s government needs to rethink its priorities next year, when the budget will face a one billion dollar shortfall. He believes one priority should be in law enforcement, especially in the state Department of Natural Resources. He also said he wants to do what he can to help revitalize Georgetown economy through rebuilding the local infrastructure. He said he’d work to dredge the Georgetown harbor and improve US Highway 521’s access.
As far as cuts go, Ryan said he would like to consolidate school districts around the state in order to save money.
It’s a topic a lot of people around (Georgetown County) aren’t really familiar with, because we only have one district… Making them aware of the fact that we have a lot of counties with, three, four, or five school districts presents the opportunity to consolidate them and make it one district per county. You realize a lot of cost savings and also increase accountability.
As he anticipates his freshman year in the Legislature, Ryan said he hopes that his young age will not be the story.
It’s important to note that the people sent me to Columbia not because I’m 22, but because they believed in the platform I presented and the things that I hope to accomplish.
Ryan is not the youngest representative in recent history. Democrat Boyd Brown was also 22 when he was elected to represent Fairfield County in 2008. Representative Bakari Sellers (D-Orangeburg) also attended USC’s law school while he was a legislator in 2007 and 2008.