Former House Speaker Jay Lucas honored with portrait

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Jay Lucas started his House career in 1999 as member No. 124 out of 124.

But now, the former Republican speaker will forever watch over the chamber after his official portrait was unveiled Tuesday.

Lucas ran the chamber for eight years, first reluctantly after being elevated to the post when former Speaker Bobby Harrell was indicted and later pleaded guilty for improperly spending campaign money.

He grew into the job, leading the House through the debate to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse lawn after nine Black worshipers were killed in a racist shooting at a Charleston church, through a multibillion-dollar debacle after work stopped on a pair of nuclear plants, through COVID-19 and raising the gas tax for roads.

Lucas’s portrait, in his speaker’s gown and holding the gavel, will hang on the wall alongside other photos like former U.S. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Confederate General Robert E. Lee and other speakers like David Wilkins.

“I hope my legacy is not measured in bills or budgets, not measured in votes or whip counts, not measured in awards and honors. But rather, I simply hope my legacy is, I left this chamber better than I found it, and my time here is consequential because it served to improve the people’s House,” Lucas said.

Lucas went to bed the night of his election in 1998 thinking he lost by a few votes. But he woke up with a 33-vote lead. After several challenges he was the last House member to be seated in 1999. Because it was so late, he didn’t even have a parking spot in the Statehouse garage.

Lucas rose quietly through the House ranks as the Republican majority expanded. He was known as a hard worker willing to take up whatever task leadership gave him. He became speaker pro-tem — the second highest leadership position in the House — in 2010.

Then Harrell was indicted and suddenly Lucas was speaker.

Lucas supported a limit of five two-year terms to temper the power of his office. He also set out to be a kinder, gentler speaker, leading through consensus and friendly debate instead of rewarding friends and punishing enemies.

“Sometimes when we worry about keeping our job, we forget to do our job,” Lucas said Tuesday.

Lucas said he is especially happy to know his portrait will watch over the House as long as it debates because he said he accomplished nothing without the help at some point of all 123 other members.

“I am immensely proud of the work we did together.” Lucas said.

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