Haley picks former coach Willie Jeffries for SPA board

Gov. Nikki Haley named South Carolina State University retired coach Willie Jeffries as her newest appointee to the State Ports Authority board.

COLUMBIA -- Gov. Nikki Haley tapped retired S.C. State University football coach Willie Jeffries for the State Ports Authority board.

Jeffries, who is the university's winningest coach, is the governor's fourth appointment to the board. Her selections still must be confirmed by the state Senate.

Senators commended Haley for appointing Jeffries, who is black, and Columbia telecommunications executive Pamela Lackey, a white female, to the SPA board to add diversity among the members.

Haley, who is the state's first female and minority governor, has faced criticism for not maintaining diversity on state boards and commission.

Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Hopkins Democrat who is black, said Jeffries will be an asset to the board.

"I want to commend the governor because I think this is a result of the dialogue she has been having with members of the General Assembly, particularly members of the black caucus," he said. "It just shows that she understands the importance of diversity, but it also shows that she knows how to pick great people.

"Coach Willie Jeffries is a legend in South Carolina and, in fact, across the nation. He is an icon, not just in the African-American community, an icon in the state of South Carolina, someone who the entire state is very proud of."

Sen. Robert Ford, a Charleston Democrat who is black, has called repeatedly for the governor to select more minorities as her appointees, especially with her April decision to remove the only woman and black member on the Medical University of South Carolina's Board of Trustees.

Haley is back on the right track, but the job is not done, Ford said Wednesday.

"The governor's got a long way to go," Ford said. "With her being a woman, you would think it would be a no-brainer. But it's not."

Haley press secretary Rob Godfrey said the governor has known Jeffries for many years.

"He's a pillar of the community who has long given his time and talents to that region and to South Carolina at large, and he will bring a great and necessary perspective to the ports authority board," Godfrey said in a statement. "She looks forward to Mr. Jeffries' swift approval by the Senate so he can get to work, focusing on bringing dual rail to Charleston and expanding the activity at all of our ports."

In April, the governor named Lackey, former Attorney General Henry McMaster and Kiawah Island Real Estate principal Pat McKinney to the board.

The appointees would replace Colden Battey of Beaufort, Harry Butler of Georgetown, Richard Hagins of Simpsonville and Douglas Robertson of Bluffton.

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855, follow her at @yvonnewenger and read her Political Briefings blog.