SC agency head is dark-horse candidate for US Senate seat

sfretwell@thestate.comDecember 15, 2012 

— While they would hate to see her go, two members of the state environmental agency say Catherine Templeton would be a good replacement for outgoing U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-Greenville.

Templeton is on Gov. Nikki Haley’s “short list” of five candidates to succeed DeMint.

Templeton, little known and never a candidate for elected office, is the darkest dark horse on Haley’s list, which includes two congressmen, a former S.C. attorney general and a former gubernatorial first lady.

Despite her dark-horse status, the controversial Templeton has her fans.

Templeton has done a good job since she was picked last winter to head the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, and would do the same good job in Washington, said Department of Health and Environmental Control board members John Hutto of Orangeburg and Ann Kirol of Rock Hill.

“I haven’t asked her about it, [but] I think she’d make a good senator,” Hutto said during a break in Thursday’s DHEC board meeting. “She understands politics. She has a history of doing quite well among [state] senators and being fair.”

Kirol also said Templeton has shown an impressive vision at DHEC.

Both Kirol and Hutto said they don’t want Templeton to leave the agency.

“I definitely think she’d be highly qualified” to be a U.S. senator, Kirol said. “But we want her to stay here with us.”

Templeton, 42, was the state labor department director under Haley before the Republican governor pushed her candidacy to run DHEC.

Following a series of contentious hearings in the state Senate, Templeton won confirmation and began work at DHEC last spring. Soon after taking office, she irked some lawmakers and long-time DHEC staffers when she cut nine coastal division staffers.

Staff shakeups produced criticism while Templeton served as labor chief, as well.

But Templeton also has been praised by policymakers and environmentalists for trying to break old habits at DHEC, an agency long criticized for its slowness to resolve environmental and health problems.

She has taken on an effort to curb obesity in South Carolina and has sought to centralize some agency offices to save money. She also has tried to ease a backlog of some 500 environmental permits that have not been processed, in some cases for years.

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