GREENVILLE, SC — Greenville County businessman Johnny Edwards says hes hoping to become chief executive for the state highway department in part because the Upstate is due for some influence in Columbia.
Edwards, owner of an industrial pipe business in Travelers Rest, served on the highway departments board, the South Carolina Transportation Commission, for four years and was its chairman in 2013.
His term ended last month, and now hes hoping Gov. Nikki Haley will nominate him to be secretary of transportation, the highway departments chief administrative officer and a Cabinet position.
The job came open earlier this year after former Transportation Secretary Robert St. Onge was charged with driving under the influence and resigned.
Edwards said his company, Edwards Piping and Machinery Inc., can basically run itself and hes willing to move to Columbia for as long as necessary.
If nominated by Haley and confirmed by the Senate, Edwards, 67, said hed focus on maintaining and upgrading the states existing road network. He also said he doesnt favor a gas tax hike at this time to generate more revenue for road improvements.
Weve fallen way behind on maintenance of the existing roads and bridges, and we just need to focus on that, he said.
Itll probably take us three or four years, if thats all we do, to get the existing roads and bridges back up to what I would call a good standard.
The Upstate supported Haley in 2010 and is due for some influence in Columbia, and I think that is what this would be, Edwards said about the possibility of his appointment.
Haley spokesman Doug Mayer declined to say who else has applied for the job, citing a longstanding policy of the Governors Office not to comment on nominations until they are complete.
Mayer did say that Christy Hall, the acting transportation secretary, would return to her job as chief financial officer at the highway department once a new secretary is chosen.
State Sen. Larry Grooms, a Charleston Republican who will preside over the eventual confirmation hearing as chairman of the Transportation Committee, said hes not backing any candidate and hasnt been asked for any recommendations.
Grooms added that he believes Edwards was effective as a Department of Transportation commissioner and I believe he would be an effective secretary.
Sen. Larry Martin, a Pickens Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said hes known Edwards a long time and finds him to be a very capable, qualified individual.
But beyond that, its purely the governors call, Martin said. Im sure Ill be fine with whoever she recommends.
DOT spokesman Pete Poore said a new transportation secretary is typically paid the same salary as his or her predecessor. He said St. Onges salary was $156,220 a year.