Gov. Henry McMaster has appointed former state Attorney General Charlie Condon to be interim chairman at the board of state-owned utility Santee Cooper. But Senate leaders insist he lacks the authority to do that.
The governor has pushed for Santee Cooper’s sale to help pay back debt on the failed V.C. Summer nuclear expansion. The temporary appointment comes nearly a month after senators did not vote on Condon’s confirmation. McMaster selected the former attorney general for the role in March. While the joint House and Senate Public Utilities Review Committee signed off on the nomination, the Senate Judiciary Committee did not act on the nomination.
The Governor’s Office insists it has the power to make recess appointments when the legislature is out of session. But senators say the position came open in December, when Condon’s predecessor Leighton Lord resigned under pressure from McMaster and others in the V.C. Summer aftermath.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Luke Rankin, R-Horry, said state allowed the governor to make a recess appointment then, but not once senators returned to Columbia in January. “The purpose of this interim appointment power is to allow appointed positions to be filled until the Senate returns from recess,” Rankin wrote in a letter to the Governor’s Office. “The interim appointment authority is only available to fill vacancies which occur during the interim in which the vacancy appears.” The letter was co-signed by Senate President pro tempore Hugh Leatherman,R-Florence; Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield; Minority Leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington; and acting Santee Cooper CEO James Brogdon.
McMaster argued the position is critical amid debate over the utility’s future. “South Carolina ratepayers simply can’t afford a leaderless Santee Cooper making a year’s worth of decisions – especially at such a critical time in the utility’s history,” the governor said in a letter notifying the commitee of his action. “As Santee Cooper’s future is studied and debated, I am confident that Mr. Condon’s leadership will result in a much-needed focus on transparency and accountability.”?
The governor has pushed to sell Santee Cooper, while senators want to study the implications of any sale. McMaster last week took the unusual step of appointing himself to serve on a legislative panel reviewing Santee Cooper’s potential sale, rather than choosing an appointee on his behalf.
Santee Cooper holds more than $4 billion in debt from V.C. Summer.
Condon is a Charleston attorney who previously served as the lead solicitor for the Charleston region and as state attorney general from 1995 until 2003. Some Senate Democrats have criticized his connections with former GOP political consultant Richard Quinn, whose business has been at the center of an ongoing Statehouse corruption probe. Condon has not been linked to any findings released from that probe, however.