State Rep. Rita Allison, R-Spartanburg, became the first woman elected as chairwoman of a House committee in more than a decade Wednesday.
While Allison was elected to head the House’s Education and Public Works Committee and a new leader was elected to head its Agriculture Committee, the leadership of four other major committees will remain the same as they were under former Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston.
“The new House leadership sure looks a lot like the old House leadership,” said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland.
In the only contested race for a chairmanship Wednesday, Ballentine challenged Republican Bill Sandifer, R-Oconee, to lead the House committee that focuses on business legislation. Sandifer beat Ballentine, 10-6, to retain his chairmanship.
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Sandifer is a controversial figure at the State House, in part because of his affiliation with a leadership political action committee. The House changed its rules Tuesday to ban the committees, which contribute money to House members campaigns.
Ballentine was nominated by state Rep. Ralph Norman, R-York, who was moved to the Business Committee after previously serving on the Education Committee. Norman ran against Harrell for speaker in 2010, receiving only five votes, including one from Ballentine.
New Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, also appointed representatives to the two committees that were created Tuesday – a panel to oversee state agencies and a committee to handle regulations and administrative procedures. The leaders of those committees will be elected at a later date.
Allison applauded Lucas’ appointments. “He’s worked very hard to take the politics out of things.”
One of the few women ever to chair a major House committee, Allison is one of the 21 women in the 124-member House.
She is tasked with leading a panel that must help address the state Supreme Court’s recent school equity decision.
“I love education. It has my heart,” Allison told the committee after being elected. Allison previously had served on the House budget panel with incoming state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, a former legislator.
“She has great experience, and a great vision,” Allison said of Spearman, adding, “I look forward for our committee working with her on moving education in our state forward.”
Allison’s education resume includes serving on the Spartanburg County school board, a stint as education adviser to then-Gov. Mark Sanford and working for the Commission on Higher Education.
The committee she now leads also handles public works and could deal with legislation to change the operation of the Department of Transportation, which manages the state’s crumbling roads.