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Pitts caps political career with Order of the Palmetto

April 20, 2019

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, defensive tackle Kawann Short and famed mascot Sir Purr were among a few of the special guests recently recognized by the state House of Representatives.

But for many members of that body, the real star of that day was a retired police officer from Laurens who walked among them for nearly 20 years.

Former state Rep. Mike Pitts, the outspoken House District 14 Republican who abruptly retired in January following a heart attack, returned to the chamber a final time, offering an emotional goodbye to colleagues who, over the years, rankled him, supported him but — as he said — always stood by his side.

“This is a place of respect and honor,” said Pitts, who was elected in 2002. “During my time here, I lost my father, I fought two rounds with cancer and eventually a heart attack. I learned something from that. This place means a lot, but it does not mean more than your health and your family.”

Following his remarks, Gov. Henry McMaster bestowed upon Pitts the Order of the Palmetto — the state’s highest civilian honor.

The visit was a return to more comfortable confines for the former lawmaker, who last month withdrew his name from consideration as executive director of the state’s Conservation Bank following a bruising confirmation hearing.

Pitts said he had no plans to formally address his colleagues but was asked by his family to do so. Pitts’ grandson is from Portland, Oregon and before Pitts returned one last time, he never got a chance to see his grandfather behind the well.

State House Speaker Jay Lucas praised Pitts for his tenure — especially as longtime chairman of the Ethics Committee.

“Mike, we miss your leadership. I was looking back at ethics leaders over the last 15 years, and I could see your face prominently. You were a guardian for us of our ethics laws,” he said.

A student of history, Pitts said he believed holding public office was a sacred duty.

“I came in with that class (of 2002) and I looked at the architecture, Mr. Speaker, I looked at the tapestry, I looked at the history and the art and I thought, ‘now, I’m a part of the history that’s continued in an unbroken chain since the founding of this country,’” Pitts said. “This body’s one of the first 13. That’s something that no one can ever take away, the fact that you are here representing constituents of this great state.”

Pitts entered the General Assembly at the same time as Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan. The men were desk mates for eight years and remain close friends today.

“Mike is a patriot and has served the people of South Carolina tremendously well. As one of my best friends, he has guided me, prayed for me, and provided me and my family with support as we both worked to serve our constituents,” Duncan said. “He has been a blessing to South Carolina and to me personally as a close friend, and I know he will follow God’s plans for his life as he enters a new chapter.”

Over his 17-year political career, Pitts lost his father, fought cancer twice and then sustained his heart attack. Each time, he said, House members rallied to his side.

“When I lost my father, I found out just how close a family this place is, and I want to tell you I appreciate you, I appreciate each of you. Times have changed, things are different nowadays, but it’s still a family in here,” Pitts said. “We had some strong debates over the years, but never hard feelings We never let the debate get personal and you taught me to be prepared when I come to this podium and know what the heck I was talking about, or you would expose it, and I appreciate that.”

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Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com

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