A state agency says S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster’s main political rival, Republican Catherine Templeton, is lying about how she left that agency and doing so to score political points.
“Ms. Templeton seeks to paint herself as a victim, but this could not be further from the truth and seems to be merely an election campaign ploy fraught with inaccuracies,” said Jim Newsome, chief executive of the S.C. Ports Authority, whose board members are appointed by the governor.
Newsome – who serves at the pleasure of that board – made the claim in an email to employees Wednesday to “set the record straight” after Templeton said she was fired from her job as a senior vice president of the Ports Authority for being a whistle-blower.
Templeton said last week she was fired after she raised questions about the agency’s payments to Columbia-based Richard Quinn & Associates and to a law firm. She also said she has been interviewed by state and federal law enforcement officials about the port’s ties to Quinn as part of an ongoing State House corruption probe.
"I support the port because it is responsible for one in 11 jobs statewide,” Templeton said in a statement Thursday, when asked to respond to Newsome’s allegations. “Law enforcement is handling the rest of this."
Richard Quinn & Associates, a political consulting firm, has been targeted in the public-corruption probe. Investigators working for the state grand jury subpoenaed the Ports Authority for details about the more than $2.6 million that it has paid to RQ&A over an eight-year period, almost all without a contract in place.
Newsome said Templeton is lying when she claims that he was forced to fire her by Ports Authority board member Bill Stern, who has ties to the Quinn family.
“It became clear to me that she was not a good fit for the role for which she was hired,” Newsome wrote. “This was a decision that I reached individually.”
Stern is friends with RQ&A’s principal Richard Quinn, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing in the State House corruption probe. A Columbia real-estate developer, Stern also once was a business partner with now-suspended state Rep. Rick Quinn, who has been charged with misconduct in office as part of the ongoing investigation.
Rick Quinn is the son of Richard Quinn.
Templeton’s departure from the port has emerged as an issue in the S.C. GOP primary for governor.
After Templeton said last week that she was fired from the port and had been interviewed by law enforcement officials, the Charleston Republican sent out a campaign email saying she was taking on “the corrupt Good Ol' Boy system in Columbia” which “tried to silence her.”
Newsome accused Templeton of lying about her departure “for the purpose of boosting a gubernatorial campaign.”
Templeton’s chief GOP primary opponent is McMaster, the incumbent Republican governor who appoints the Ports Authority’s board members. Those board members include McMaster campaign contributors Stern and AT&T state president Pamela Lackey.
A state agency wading into politics is unusual.
However, on Thursday, Newsome told The State he has “the duty and obligation to communicate factually with my 580 people and assure them that they work for an organization that has the highest standards of ethical behavior. That is what this communication represents, a fulfillment of that duty. And, the port is not going to be used as a political ploy based on a bunch of spurious accusations, no matter who makes them.”
According to Newsome’s email to employees, Templeton attempted to smooth things over with the port before she announced her bid for governor.
Last fall, a year after she was fired, Newsome said Templeton reached out to him in a text message to offer her help to the Ports Authority:
“I hate that things did not work out and perhaps things should have been handled differently, but I’m settled on running for Gov and want to help the Port and you,” she wrote.
Neither Templeton nor Newsome would answer questions Thursday about the nature of that meeting.