COLUMBIA, SC — While they would hate to see her go, two members of the state environmental agency say Catherine Templeton would be a good replacement for outgoing U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-Greenville.
Templeton is on Gov. Nikki Haleys short list of five candidates to succeed DeMint.
Templeton, little known and never a candidate for elected office, is the darkest dark horse on Haleys list, which includes two congressmen, a former S.C. attorney general and a former first lady.
Despite her dark-horse status, the controversial Templeton has her fans.
Templeton has done a good job since she was picked last winter to head the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, and would do the same good job in Washington, said Department of Health and Environmental Control board members John Hutto of Orangeburg and Ann Kirol of Rock Hill.
I havent asked her about it, (but) I think shed make a good senator, Hutto said during a break in Thursdays DHEC board meeting. She understands politics. She has a history of doing quite well among (state) senators and being fair.
Kirol also said Templeton has shown an impressive vision at DHEC.
Both Kirol and Hutto said they dont want Templeton to leave the state agency. I definitely think shed be highly qualified to be a U.S. senator, Kirol said. But we want her to stay here with us.
Templeton, 42, was the state labor department director under Haley before the Republican governor pushed her candidacy to run DHEC.
Following a series of contentious hearings in the state Senate, Templeton won confirmation and began work at DHEC last spring. Soon after taking office, she irked some lawmakers and long-time DHEC staffers when she cut nine coastal division staffers.
Templeton who lives in Mount Pleasant, after declining to move to Columbia to run two state agencies also brought in a group of highly paid advisers last spring, some of whom had never worked at the health and environmental agency. Numerous long-time staffers including DHECs top lawyer, its chief lobbyists and its top environmental regulator since have left the agency.
Staff shakeups produced criticism while Templeton served as labor chief, as well.
But Templeton also has been praised by policymakers and environmentalists for trying to break old habits at DHEC, an agency long criticized for its slowness to resolve environmental and health problems.
She has taken on an effort to curb obesity in South Carolina and has sought to centralize some agency offices to save money. She also has tried to ease a backlog of some 500 environmental permits that have not been processed, in some cases for years.
Templeton also gets high marks for moving to stop or clean up pollution in some Columbia-area neighborhoods. Under Templeton, DHEC took the unusual step of proposing to deny a new permit for a sewage dump in Lexington County after neighbors complained about odors and groundwater pollution.
She also won kudos for moving quickly to clean up pollution in a Rosewood Drive community and give health tests to its residents after toxic metals were found buried in yards. Her agency, working with Columbia City Councilman Moe Baddourah, persuaded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to dig up yards and rid the area of the toxic soil. DHEC staffers identified the lead and arsenic pollution last summer, which apparently had existed for decades in yards without the agencys knowledge.
DHEC critic Ann Timberlake, director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, singled Templeton out for praise at a luncheon this past fall.
Templeton, who grew up in Irmo, declined to comment when questioned about the Senate seat at Thursdays DHEC meeting. She said she was flattered to be considered but had plenty more to do at DHEC.
Ill be glad to talk about any DHEC thing you want to, she said. I usually will tell you anything, but I dont think its appropriate to be involved in discussing this.
There is a lot of work to be done here.