Governor Henry McMaster said he followed South Carolina law when he appointed former state Attorney General Charlie Condon as interim chairman of state-owned utility Santee Cooper.
“If you read the law, it’s clear that if there’s a vacancy the governor can make an interim appointment,” he said Tuesday, more than a week after appointing Condon. “There was a vacancy outside of session in November or December. I did not make an interim appointment.”
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. They said that means McMaster’s nomination of Condon in March was subject to Senate approval. Senators adjourned for the year without approving Condon, although a key committee indicated support.
“So now they’re out of session again and we still have the vacancy and so I have made the first interim appointment and that’s Mr. Condon,” McMaster said. “And he has received his commission from the Secretary of State and right now he’s Chairman of Santee Cooper.”
A letter from Senate Judiciary Committee chair Luke Rankin, R-Horry, insists McMaster could appoint someone else under the interim appointment laws, but not Condon.
Condon has received some criticism for his connections with Republican political consultant Richard Quinn, whose business was at the center of a Statehouse corruption probe. But the governor maintains the former attorney general is an appropriate choice.
“There’s a lot more work to do and that’s why I want Charlie Condon,” he told reporters. “(Condon) will be taking his seat as chairman of Santee Cooper. He has no connection to it previously. He goes in with a clean slate. Fresh eyes.”
McMaster said he pressured Lord to resign in order to get an audit investigating the feasibility of completing the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station in Fairfield County, known as the Bechtel report.
“It’s been hard to get the facts,” he said. “As you know, I had to fight to get that Bechtel report released and had to remove the chairman of Santee Cooper in order to accomplish that — or ask for his removal. He ultimately resigned. We need to find a better way and that’s what I’m doing.”
Santee Cooper, a state-owned utility, was working with SCE&G to build two nuclear reactors at the V.C. Summer Nuclear Station. Santee Cooper announced last year it could not afford to continue with work on the project and SCE&G abandoned it entirely the next day.
“I’m aware of criminal investigations, and at least inquiries being made, and aware of a lot of lawsuits and this must be handled properly,” McMaster said. “We have more control and more decision-making concerning Santee Cooper.”
McMaster said Santee Cooper has $8 billion in debt, half of it due to costs incurred while building the nuclear reactors. He has confidence Condon has the ability to turn the utility around.
“Enormous legal ability. A noted attorney and former attorney general for two terms,” McMaster said of Condon’s resume. “He is an excellent addition to that board to get to the bottom of what has happened at Santee Cooper and to see how to fix it.”
The governor has pushed for lawmakers to find a buyer to help pay off Santee Cooper’s debt.