After three days of debate, Lowcountry lawyer Catherine Templeton won the state Senate’s approval Tuesday to become the head of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, clearing the way for her to assume the top post at the state’s environmental agency.
The Senate vote was 38 to 3.
Only Democratic state Sens. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, Phil Leventis of Sumter and Joel Lourie of Columbia voted no.
The three raised concerns about Templeton’s lack of experience, her unwillingness to move to Columbia from Mount Pleasant for the job and her initial reluctance to take the post as reasons for their “no” votes.
Templeton has said she is capable of doing the job and that she wants it, but she will work out of the agency’s North Charleston office, commuting to Columbia as often as is needed.
“I’m honored to be entrusted with leading an agency that touches the life of every South Carolinian every day,” Templeton, DHEC’s first female commissioner in its nearly 40-year history, said in a statement Tuesday. “I look forward to working with DHEC’s noteworthy experts and outstanding staff to fulfill the agency’s mission of promoting and protecting the health of the people of South Carolina and our environment.”
Templeton, 41, will begin work March 15, earning up to $184,000 a year.
The three dissenters questioned why Templeton, who was recommended for the job by Gov. Nikki Haley, was chosen when more-qualified applicants — including some with advanced degrees in environmental-related areas and years of managerial experience — were not interviewed. Templeton beat out 250 other candidates for the post, overseeing a complicated state agency with more than 4,000 employees.
“Why would we confirm someone who sets their own work rules?” said Leventis, who filibustered against Templeton’s appointment for four hours last Wednesday. “Why would we accept someone who wants to run it by remote control?”
Hutto added Templeton, whose background is as a labor attorney, had no experience managing others before becoming director of the much smaller state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation 13 months ago.
But several lawmakers came to Templeton’s defense Tuesday, including state Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, who said Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which Templeton currently oversees as director, is well run.
“Every time our (Senate) committee ever needed any information, it came much quicker than from any other (state agency),” Bryant said.
State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, said he had spoken with Templeton and been assured she will be on the job in Columbia whenever needed. He voted in favor of her confirmation.
“She has told me she’s going to be there (in Columbia) the majority of the time,” Malloy said.
He added the Senate’s three days of debate on the confirmation will increase the odds that Templeton does a good job. “If nothing else, this process will encourage her to rise to the level of our expectations.”