Kitzman confident in ability to lead DHEC on eve of confirmation hearings

Eleanor Kitzman

COLUMBIA — Eleanor Kitzman isn’t dwelling on the opposition she faces on the eve of her confirmation hearings before the state Senate as the governor’s nominee to take over the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Kitzman, an ally of Gov. Nikki Haley and the state insurance commissioner when U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford was governor, is anticipating tough questioning Thursday by senators wary of her political connections and qualifications to lead the agency.

But that hasn’t caused Kitzman to question her leadership skills or ability to do the job if confirmed to replace Catherine Templeton, who resigned as DHEC chief in January.

“I don’t have any preconceived notions of what I’m going to do,” said Kitzman, who has been working at the agency in a managerial position while awaiting the hearings. “I’m going to tell whoever what I think and what my recommendations are. There may be someone else who is the ultimate decision maker, but I’m going to do what I think is the right thing and I’m going to follow the law.”

Kitzman took the long route on her way to South Carolina. The Texas native married young, and divorced before she was 20 years old. As a single, teenage mother, Kitzman decided she did not want to be a statistic.

Following in her uncle’s footsteps, she went to law school and graduated in 1986. She practiced law for about five years, representing insurance companies.

Kitzman made her way to South Carolina when she was asked to lobby in favor of a bill that would reform how automobile insurance in the state was handled. After the bill passed, she moved to the Palmetto State and founded Driver’s Choice Insurance Services in 1999.

DHEC is a regulatory agency, and regulations are exactly what Kitzman says she has experience in. Plus, DHEC is a service provider, and that’s another field Kitzman says she is well-versed in, both from her experience in the insurance industry.

DHEC regulates everything from dock permits and restaurant inspections to hospital beds and beach erosion, and Kitzman acknowledged she’d never be the engineer in the room. But she said she’d surround herself with experts, and would help guide the agency in the right direction.

“I have received no marching orders from anyone,” Kitzman said. “I take that to mean that they don’t have to give me marching orders. They know that I’m going to do the job and that I am going to be independent. I have a track record of being independent from governors.”