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Past Wilkins Legislative Award Winners on the Advice They’d Give to Freshman Legislators

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As we prepare for the January 10 Riley-Wilkins OneSouthCarolina Legislative and Civic Leadership Awards, we’re reminded of the examples set by past winners. Here’s a look back at a few pieces of advice these outstanding leaders would give to freshman legislators.

What advice do you have for freshman legislators?

“It’s almost like crossing the street: Look both ways, listen, and make sure that you’re learning the process. The political process is different than most things you attempt or approach in life, but it’s a noble calling. I think Ronald Reagan had said that. Politics is noble; it’s not ignoble. It’s what we make of it that changes the dynamics of what politics is. Let that be what you focus on that desire to serve and learn how you can work for those that sent you to Columbia.”

Former Representative Gary Simrill (R-York)
2019 Award Winner for Excellence in Legislative Leadership

“First of all, I would tell them upfront that they need to listen and be very careful about moving too fast. Learn the process, [build] relationships — it’s tremendously important to build relationships. I think when your time comes to speak and you have built those relationships, people start to listen to you.”

Representative Rita Allison (R-Spartanburg)
2016 Award Winner for Excellence in Legislative Leadership


“I’d tell them that the General Assembly has a great deal of power, but individual members have very little power, and that your power and your influence rest on your reputation. So, if you have a reputation for working hard, people want you on their committee. If you’re an ideologue, people are going to look very closely at your legislation, whereas if you’re a pragmatist and want what’s best for the state of South Carolina, your legislation will probably have a lot better chance of getting through. If you’re honest and trustworthy, people will trust you.”

Former Senator Wes Hayes (R-York)
2010 Award Winner for Excellence in Legislative Leadership

Riley-Wilkins OneSouthCarolina Legislative and Civic Leadership Awards

January 10, 2023

Join us in shining a light on two exceptional individuals, people who inspire rising leaders by exemplifying what can be achieved through empathy, collaboration, perseverance, and an overriding commitment to the wellbeing of the people of our state.

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The Riley Institute would like to thank Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative for supporting the 2023 Riley-Wilkins OneSouthCarolina Leadership Awards as a partner-level sponsor. Learn more about Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative at

Winner quotes excerpted from 2020 video, “Fifteen Years of Wilkins Award Winners on Leadership, Service and Bipartisanship.”