Politics & Government

EXCLUSIVE: Jenny Sanford applies for DHEC director post

Former S.C. First Lady Jenny Sanford has applied for the vacant job as director of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Sanford said she is looking to get back into the workforce, adding the DHEC post was a logical position to seek. Sanford said she sent a resume to the state’s health-and-environment agency within the past week. She said she has not heard back from the agency.

Sanford is also a longtime supporter of Gov. Nikki Haley.

Another longtime Haley supporter, Eleanor Kitzman, recently withdrew from consideration for the DHEC job, which pays about $150,000 a year, after a Senate screening committee questioned her lack of qualifications and her ties to the governor.

Haley had championed Kitzman’s candidacy for the job. But the governor’s office said Thursday it had not asked Sanford to apply for the DHEC post.

“Jenny Sanford has been a great friend to the governor and, more importantly, to South Carolina,” said Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams. “The governor is thrilled that she wants to again serve our state, in whatever capacity that ends up being.”

When Sanford was asked if anyone had encouraged her to apply for the DHEC job, she replied she had “not consulted with anybody about my employment.”

Sanford contributed a total of $1,000 to Haley’s 2010 and 1014 bids for governor. She could have given up to $7,000.

DHEC has received 32 applications for its director’s position, said spokeswoman Cassandra Harris. The board still is receiving applications and will not provide the name or information of any applicant, she said. The agency’s board plans to nominate a new director by May 1 so the Senate can conduct confirmation hearings before the Legislature ends in June.

“Once the board’s personnel committee reviews the applications, interviews will be conducted and finalists will be brought to the board for consideration,” Harris said.

State senators, who must confirm a new DHEC director, reacted to news of Sanford’s application Thursday with caution.

‘I just sent them my resume’

Sanford divorced then-Gov. Mark Sanford in 2010 after he publicly admitted to having an affair with an Argentine woman.

The Sanfords have four sons. Jenny Sanford said she has more time to devote to a job now because only one is still at home, and he is in high school.

Sanford said DHEC isn’t the only job opportunity she is weighing. She said she also is looking at positions in private industry.

DHEC is not the perfect post since she lives in Charleston, she added.

“The DHEC job is open (and), yeah, I just sent them my resume,” Sanford told The State newspaper Thursday. “Is it the ideal job for me? No, because I’d prefer a job in Charleston, and I’d prefer one in the private sector.”

It is not the first time Jenny Sanford has been considered for a state job.

Sanford was one of five finalists that Gov. Haley considered as the interim replacement for U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, when the Greenville Republican stepped down in 2012. Haley chose U.S. Rep. Tim Scott instead.

Sanford also expressed interest last year in the job of president of the College of Charleston, which went to former Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

Sanford said the state needs good business people in government.

She acknowledged she doesn’t have experience working at an environmental or health agency, but said she gained experience with health initiatives while first lady.

“When I was first lady, I obviously cared very much about health,” she said. “I spent a lot of time talking about health and wellness and disease prevention. Those are issues DHEC deals with seriously and consistently.”

Sanford also said she is passionate about protecting the environment. Her ex-husband – a onetime political mentor to Gov. Haley – drew praise from conservationists for his environmental record while governor for two terms.

“I am a big believer in the notion that our state looks and feels different than most other states and it is primarily a function of how beautiful we are – and that is related to our woods and waters and our pristine environment,” she said. “It needs to be preserved.”

Sanford said environmental issues can be balanced with business goals.

“I’m just starting the process of looking for employment for the next decade or two for myself,” she said. “I threw this in the hopper with everybody else out here.”

‘She’s an enigma’

State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, who criticized Kitzman’s nomination, said he did not want to pre-judge Jenny Sanford’s application to head DHEC.

Hutto said he wants to know more about Sanford’s work experience and education, adding he is willing to entertain an application from anybody.

“I know her as the first lady,” Hutto said, adding he thought Sanford – a former Wall Street banker – had a financial background. “She needs to go through the same scrutiny as any applicant” and show she has expertise in managing an agency with 3,000 employees.

Because of the Kitzman experience, Sanford could be at a disadvantage compared to other candidates, said state Sen. Ray Cleary, R-Georgetown.

Sanford’s Wall Street background and Georgetown University education could qualify her for the job, Cleary added.

“I always say if Mark Sanford was the general, she might have been the commander-in-chief,” he said, adding, “She’s an enigma for me.”

State Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said DHEC should select a leader with experience in management and a health or science background.

“My hope is the board will do what they did not do the first time, which is go through a good, deliberative process and find the best candidate to run the agency.”