COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster's long-stalled nominee to lead the board of state-owned utility Santee Cooper will almost certainly not get confirmed after a state Senate panel overwhelmingly rejected him Tuesday.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 19-4 to take the rare step of reporting unfavorably former S.C. Attorney General Charlie Condon's nomination to the full Senate, practically dooming his chances of confirmation.
Condon has served as interim chairman since November, when the S.C. Supreme Court sided with McMaster over the Senate in a dispute over his authority to make a recess appointment.
McMaster first nominated Condon in March 2018, but the Senate waited to consider the nomination.
Condon said after the hearing, he has not decided whether he will withdraw his name from consideration, but he acknowledged the committee's unfavorable vote will drastically diminish his chances of getting confirmed.
"I'm sure it will be voted down by the full Senate, there's no question about that," Condon said. "I don't want to waste anybody's time."
Several lawmakers, including McMaster's fellow Republicans, expressed concerns with Condon's qualifications for the job, noting he does not have a background in utilities.
"I think General Condon is a very bright gentleman," Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said. "I think he's served the state well. I think he is qualified to do many, many things. Respectfully, I do not think he is qualified to serve as the chairman of the board of a major utility."
While Condon agreed he does not have utility experience, he cast the job's primary challenges as being more about management oversight, and he touted his work as interim chairman trying to increase transparency on the board.
"'Oh gosh, you're not a utility expert' — that's not what's needed," Condon told lawmakers in his defense. "What's needed is somebody who's got a little bit of nerve."
He added, "I hope you think I might have that, in terms of ... asking the tough questions and following those questions where they might lead."
Condon suggested the Senate's underlying problem with him is that he's an "agent of change" who has been looking to shake up the status quo at a state agency that has accrued billions of dollars in debt, including $4 billion from its ties to the V.C. Summer failed nuclear project.
"The Senate wasn't interested in the approach that yours truly had been taking," said Condon, who served as the state's elected attorney general from 1995-2003.
McMaster defended his pick of Condon even as lawmakers were rejecting him in the confirmation process.
Condon has been "the best chairman Santee Cooper has ever had," said the governor's spokesman, Brian Symmes.
He added it is "abundantly clear" the vote was determined when the S.C. Supreme Court ruled against the Senate in November.
"Transparency and accountability for ratepayers suffered a setback today," Symmes said. "While the status quo for Santee Cooper has been preserved for the time being, Gov. McMaster will keep fighting for the ratepayers.”