COLUMBIA — After delaying the candidates for two weeks, state lawmakers moved Gov. Henry McMaster's two nominees for the South Carolina Ports Authority forward Tuesday.
In a unanimous vote, a legislative oversight committee chose to advance SCANA Corp. vice president Kenneth Jackson and environmental attorney and University of South Carolina trustee William Jones toward full Senate confirmation.
The vote of confidence for McMaster's appointments comes amid ongoing concerns over the SPA's business relationship with Richard Quinn & Associates, a powerful Columbia-area political consulting firm that has been named in the indictment of a longtime state senator and is being scrutinized as part of an ongoing corruption probe.
Just last week the current ports board chose to suspend its ties to the consulting firm — owned by Richard Quinn — citing news of the continuing investigation and the lack of contracts, performance reviews and other paperwork detailing the roughly $1 million in work that it had been paid for annually. Quinn and his firm have not been charged in the probe.
The decision to cut ties with Quinn was led by the current chairman, Pat McKinney, and board member Mike Sisk, whose terms have expired. They are to be replaced by McMaster's appointees.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, said he saw no reason not to move the nominations forward.
The oversight committee's role, he said, was to decide whether the two nominees were qualified, and that it would be up to the Senate Transportation Committee, set to meet Wednesday, to further evaluate the two men.
“This was more of a black and white situation,” said Grooms, who is also the chairman of the transportation committee. “Tomorrow is more subjective.”
Two weeks ago, however, it was the indirect ties that McMaster's nominees had with Richard Quinn & Associates that delayed their confirmations.
Jackson, the SCANA executive, was asked about his employer's own contracts with Quinn, and Jones was questioned about his law partner's previous use of the consulting firm. Both said they had nothing to do with those business relationships.
After reviewing those ties, Grooms was convinced the candidates' indirect connections to Quinn were no reason to delay the high-profile political appointments. Both nominees, he said, were “several layers removed" from the beleaguered political consulting firm.
“I’ve got no issues with these two candidates becoming members of the State Ports Authority board,” Grooms said. “The two folks they are replacing are also great folks.”
Still, other lawmakers might raise objections in the transportation committee Wednesday morning.
Like many other lawmakers, Grooms said he is concerned about the impact that the investigation and corruption probe is having on the state's image.
“It greatly concerns me. It concerns me about the reputation of our state. It concerns me about the reputation of the ports authority, also the General Assembly,” Grooms said.
Lawmakers still need to do their jobs and vote on the board appointments, he said.
“We know that there is an ongoing investigation," he said. "But, also, the state government can’t become paralyzed.”