When Rep. Harold Mitchell took the floor of the South Carolina legislature for what could be the last time earlier this week, there was a certain poignancy to his message.
Mitchell, who is retiring after serving 12 years in the SC House of Representatives, was not there to deliver a broad manifesto about the future of state politics nor to simply say a fond farewell to his friends and colleagues over the last dozen years. He instead spoke, with obvious emotion, about the real reason he was leaving the legislature—his health.
Mitchell credited the SCHA-sponsored “A Healthier Statehouse” initiative led by Rep. Neal Collins, along with a host of others, for helping him see the light about his battles with diabetes and gout. He believes the lengthy travel time, high stress, and poor diet environmental factors of being a representative exacerbated those woes. Mitchell realized there was, in the words of fellow Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, who spoke briefly before him, “life after politics.”
“I should have done this last year,” said Mitchell with tears in his eyes. “I should have listened more to all of the advice I was given about my health.”
The Spartanburg native had cared for his ailing parents in recent years but rarely stopped to take account of his own health, despite concerns from those around him. He recalls initially feeling almost contemptuous of Collins’ plan to change the culture of the State House.
“I didn’t like [him] because of that at first,” he says—now quite warmly—in his speech. “I was ready to hit you with a brick!”
Even as he began to take some halting steps towards a better lifestyle, “following Neal’s advice,” as he says, he found the long days in the legislature wreaking havoc on his best intentions. Last spring, near the end of session, a heart attack scare followed by a similar incident in November convinced him it might be time to hang up his legislating cleats.
Fittingly enough, he credits a difficult stress test he was taking as part of his increased attention to his health as the final straw.
“I was kind of like a lawyer that takes care of everybody else but never does their own will,” he says ruefully. Now he wants to turn his attention to his children, attending track meets, recitals and graduations, rather than State House skirmishes.
His farewell speech, so obviously heartfelt, drew a lengthy standing ovation on the House floor.