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McMaster withdraws Santee Cooper chairman's nomination after Senate panel rejection

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Condon confirmation hearing (copy) (copy)

Charlie Condon. File

COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster withdrew the nomination of former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon as chairman of state-owned utility Santee Cooper after his rejection last week from a Senate panel.

In a letter sent to Senate President Harvey Peeler on Monday, McMaster said continuing Condon's tainted nomination to the full Senate would be an unnecessary distraction toward efforts agreed by lawmakers to look at selling Santee Cooper.

Condon left the board Monday. First Vice Chair Dan Ray of Georgetown has become chairman. He oversaw meetings Monday.

Condon was McMaster's second nominee turned away last week. The full Senate rebuffed the governor's choice to run the state Department on Aging, Stephen Morris. 

But Morris, a longtime McMaster friend, remains at the agency as an $109,000-a-year acting director, a move that angered a top senator who said she would seek to close a loophole that allows a Senate-rejected nominee to stay on the job.  

After speaking to a Rotary Club in North Charleston, McMaster said he did not expect the blowback he received over keeping Morris, who he thought would have done a good job.

Asked if there was no one else who could lead the aging agency in the interim, McMaster referenced the Senate's rejections of Morris and Condon.

“It’s very difficult to get people to put their name up for a position like this when they see the way that Mr. Morris was treated and see the way that former Attorney General Charlie Condon is being treated,” McMaster said. “Both are being treated improperly, in my opinion."

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In his letter, the governor credited Condon's work as acting chairman in helping win legislative backing to find a buyer or manager for Santee Cooper, calling him a "change agent" who championed transparency and accountability.

Condon butted heads with longtime board members over spending after a $9 billion nuclear project failure, including hiring outside criminal lawyers to protect employees from investigations and a political consultant to polish its public image.

McMaster, who has advocated selling Santee Cooper, said leadership at the Moncks Corner-based power provider still has "a corporate culture of false privilege and institutional arrogance."

The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Condon's nomination as chairman in a 19-4 vote last week with some senators citing his lack of utility experience. Despite the opposition from the committee, Condon's nomination still was scheduled to go to the the full Senate before McMaster's letter.

McMaster's office said the rejection stemmed from a fight with the Senate over the governor's appointment powers. 

After the Senate did not act on Condon's nomination last year, McMaster put him on the Santee Cooper board after the legislative session ended. The Senate sued to block it and lost in the state Supreme Court. 

Caitlin Byrd contributed to this report.

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