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A young SC councilman rises quickly to the Statehouse

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Rep. Seth Rose is sworn in at Statehouse ceremony

Rep. Seth Rose (middle), D-Columbia, is sworn in as a new state representative in an early December 2018 ceremony. Joseph Cranney/Staff

COLUMBIA — One of Seth Rose’s earliest political memories is that of a snarling dog.

This was back in 2010 — Rose’s first ever campaign — when he was a 29 year old stumping for a Richland County Council seat. While door-knocking in a Columbia neighborhood, he was greeted by a large barking mutt.

When its owner opened the front door, the dog charged at Rose. A former athlete, he tried dodging out of the way. But the dog lunged and sunk its teeth into Rose’s inner right thigh, splitting his pants.

The owner was embarrassed. Rose brushed it off.

“I went home and wrote her a note,” he said. “I told her it was great meeting her. And I wrapped a wishbone in a Ziploc bag and sent it to her. I said, ‘Please tell the dog no hard feelings.’ ”

Apparently, that’s the kind of thing that can happen when a candidate knocks on more than 8,000 doors.

But few would dispute that Rose’s grassroots efforts as a Richland councilman didn’t bring other benefits. Less than a decade after his first campaign, Rose recently was sworn in to his newest position — state representative of District 72 in Columbia.

A Columbia DUI attorney and former prosecutor, Rose turns 38 years old the day after Christmas.

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By the end of his second term, he had become one of Columbia’s most popular young Democrats. So much so that after Rose announced his intention to run for former Rep. James Smith's House seat, no Democrat opposed him. And no Republican entered the race, either. Smith ran for governor instead of seeking re-election.

Smith’s former district covers much of the same area of Rose’s district on the council. And Rose had built a sizable base, backed by a reputation for being accessible and fighting to increase transparency in government.

During his council terms, he regularly mailed fliers to constituents that included his personal cell phone number. He successfully pushed for the council to video record its meetings and post them online. And he convinced the council to agree to roll-call voting on every measure.

“I think he proved that he was good at the things expected of an elected official,” S.C. Democratic Chairman Trav Robertson said. “He was vocal. He stood up for his constituents.”

Rose grew up in Florida, was recruited to the University of South Carolina on a tennis scholarship and was an All-American his senior year. Now as a freshman lawmaker, he said he wants to get involved in some of the state’s most pressing issues during the legislative session, such as reforms to education and ethics laws.

He is one of a trio of lawmakers pledging to introduce a “Teacher’s Bill of Rights,” which would bring the state’s teacher salaries to the Southeast average, among other provisions.

And he is eyeing a change to state ethics laws requiring people who lobby local government officials to register with the state, just as state lobbyists are required. As a County Councilman deciding on large county projects, Rose said he was occasionally approached by individuals whose intentions weren’t always obvious.

“It was like — are you contacting me as a lobbyist or not?” Rose said. “That’s a line that needs to be drawn, legally.”

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

Joseph Cranney is an investigative reporter in Columbia, with a focus on government corruption and injustices in the criminal legal system. He can be reached securely by Proton mail at jcranney@prontonmail.com or on Signal at 215-285-9083.

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