Greenville businessman lobbies for highway job

Greenville NewsMarch 27, 2014 

— Greenville County businessman Johnny Edwards says he’s 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 department’s board, the South Carolina Transportation Commission, for four years and was its chairman in 2013.

His term ended last month, and now he’s hoping Gov. Nikki Haley will nominate him to be secretary of transportation, the highway department’s 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 he’s willing to move to Columbia for as long as necessary.

If nominated by Haley and confirmed by the Senate, Edwards, 67, said he’d focus on maintaining and upgrading the state’s existing road network. He also said he doesn’t favor a gas tax hike “at this time” to generate more revenue for road improvements.

“We’ve fallen way behind on maintenance of the existing roads and bridges, and we just need to focus on that,” he said.

“It’ll probably take us three or four years, if that’s 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 Governor’s 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 he’s not backing any candidate and hasn’t 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 he’s known Edwards a long time and finds him to be a “very capable, qualified individual.”

“But beyond that, it’s purely the governor’s call,” Martin said. “I’m sure I’ll 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. Onge’s salary was $156,220 a year.

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