The number of women serving in the South Carolina Senate has now doubled.
Voters in the rural Lowcountry on Tuesday overwhelmingly chose Walterboro attorney Margie Bright Matthews to fill out the last year of the late State Sen. Clementa Pinckney’s term. Matthews handily defeated Republican Al Fernandez in the heavily-Democratic district that stretches across rural communities west of Charleston towards the Lower Savannah region.
Unofficial returns from the South Carolina Election Commission showed Matthews receiving 88.5 percent of the vote to Fernandez’s 11.5 percent.
She will replace Pinckney in Senate District 45, which includes parts of Allendale, Beaufort, Charleston, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties. Pinckney was one of nine people shot and killed by a suspected white supremacist in June at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Matthews’ election means there will be now be two women in the state Senate for the first time since 2008. State Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, is the only other current female senator. Both women will run for reelection next year. Matthews is just the second African-American female senator in state history. The first was State Sen. Maggie Glover, who represented the Florence region from 1993 until 2004.
This election is Matthews’ first run for elected office, although she has been active in the region’s legal community. Her biography states she is president of the Colleton County Bar Association and that she was on an advisory panel for the state Commission on Indigent Defense. She defeated State Rep. Kenneth Hodges and several other candidates in the Democratic primary last month.
While Matthews had been expected to win, the final margin was still surprisingly large. Pinckney himself last won reelection in 2012 with 66 percent of the vote.
Fernandez is a Lutheran minister from the town of Garnet. He also owns a fire protection business.