Conservation Bank Director Update
During the campaign, I promised to fight dysfunction and cronyism in Columbia. Since getting to the State House, I have seen that culture is alive and well—as was evident the past few weeks as we considered the nomination of a new director to lead the SC Conservation Bank. I want to explain why I opposed this nomination, and what it says about the work we need to do to clean up our government.
The State’s land bank is the product of the SC Conservation Bank Act of 2002—a bipartisan legislative initiative celebrated by sportsmen and environmentalists alike. Since its inception, the bank has protected South Carolina’s outdoors by acquiring land and conservation easements from voluntary sellers. It is a worthy agency that does good work in our state, and the choice for its next executive director should not be taken lightly.
The bank’s 12-person board reviewed at least 30 applications for the vacant role at the bank, including a number of highly qualified individuals with land bank experience. In the end, they nominated Mike Pitts, a state representative for more than 15 years whose sole qualification for the directorship was his relationship with the legislature.
At his confirmation hearing last week, Mr. Pitts confirmed he recused himself in March 2018 from voting on the bank’s budget because he was contemplating applying for the director’s position. However, he was unable to explain why he voted in May, just 60 days later, to strip out a provision that would have prohibited a sitting legislator, like him, from getting the job.
Yesterday, Mr. Pitts withdrew his name as a candidate to lead the bank. He did the right thing, and I thank him for making that decision. But stopping this particular nomination is not enough.
While pressing his nomination, some former colleagues of both parties advocated on Mr. Pitts’ behalf citing their personal affinity for him as grounds to support the nomination. That view is flawed and is illustrative of what is wrong with government.
Mike Pitts was not the most qualified candidate for the job. In fact, prior to deciding to pursue the director’s job, his voting record demonstrated antipathy for the SC Conservation Bank. Yet he was able to game the system—voting to keep the job open to him and calling on his personal relationships with colleagues to push his nomination through.
Its cronyism, plain and simple, and far too often, it is how business is done at the State House. It is wrong and it has to stop.
This week, I am introducing a bill to stop the revolving door at the State House by mandating a one-year cooling-off period for legislators before they can apply for public employment. Such a bill will help us avoid a repeat of the last few weeks and is a small next step in the direction of stopping the culture of cronyism in the State House.