South Carolina senators are suing to block Gov. Henry McMaster’s appointment to lead state-owned utility Santee Cooper’s board.
The governor tapped former state attorney general Charlie Condon as chairman of the utility’s board last month after legislators adjourned before advancing his original March nomination. The Governor’s Office said it has the power to make recess appointments when the legislature is out of session. But senators insist that does not apply to nominees the governor already tapped while they were in session.
“While we can understand the Governor’s frustration at the lack of consent for Mr. Condon, we cannot allow the end to justify any means—particularly when the means would upend the constitutional and statutory process,” Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman said in a statement.
Leatherman insisted the Tuesday’s Supreme Court filing had nothing to do with McMaster or Condon personally, but about “ensuring the rule of law.” The chair position came open in December when Condon’s predecessor Leighton Lord resigned under pressure from McMaster. Lord and the board were criticized for missing warning signs in years leading up to the V.C. Summer nuclear expansion’s abandonment last year.
Condon’s nomination is seen as crucial since the governor has pushed for Santee Cooper’s sale to help pay back debt on the failed expansion, which Leatherman and other senators have publicly opposed. 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.
Meanwhile, a joint House-Senate study committee examining Santee Cooper’s future held its first meeting Tuesday. The meeting occurred shortly before the Senate announced its lawsuit.
McMaster, who appointed himself to the panel, encouraged lawmakers to reach a speedy resolution on the utility’s fate. “If this commission does its work properly and gets the facts,… it’s usually easy to make the decision,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting. “Sometimes the decisions are hard. But if you have the facts, you can make the decision.”