S.C. Legislature selects Chellis to succeed Ravenel

COLUMBIA -- Summerville accountant and state House member Converse Chellis III was overwhelmingly elected state treasurer Friday, prompting an angry response from Gov. Mark Sanford, whose preferred candidates got scant support from the General Assembly.

"I want to take what I have learned during these past 11 years as a legislator, mix them with my 30-plus years in the accounting profession and transition this knowledge to the office of Treasurer," Chellis wrote in a statement read to legislators announcing both his acceptance of the treasurer's job and the resignation of his House seat.

Chellis, 63, won the support of 122 of the 146 legislators meeting in a special joint assembly to choose a successor to Thomas Ravenel, who resigned July 24 amid federal cocaine possession and distribution charges. As treasurer, he will be paid $92,007 a year.

The battle for treasurer quickly became another fight between the General Assembly and Sanford, who said legislators should pick either state Sen. Greg Ryberg, an Aiken Republican who unsuccessfully sought the job last year, or Charleston County Council chairman Tim Scott.

In urging legislators to choose Ryberg or Scott, the governor noted Scott's election would make him the first black constitutional officer since Reconstruction.

But legislators emphatically rejected the governor's call. Ryberg got only 24 votes. None of the legislators nominated Scott.

"Normally, if somebody is endorsed by the governor, he'll have somebody nominate him," said state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, a Florence Republican who has verbally tussled with Sanford. "I don't understand."

Though he had publicly backed candidates in the race, Sanford blasted the General Assembly's decision as hasty.

"To hold this election in just over a week after the treasurer resigned makes a mockery of the electoral process and gives South Carolina the appearance of a banana republic," Sanford said in a statement released after the vote.

Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said the General Assembly needed to act quickly to fill the void left by Ravenel's resignation.

Told of the governor's reaction, McConnell's lips curled with incredulity.

"No mockery was made," he said. "We just made the best of a bad situation."

Chellis' election likely gives the General Assembly firm control over the State Budget and Control Board, a five-member panel that holds great sway over financial matters in South Carolina, including state pensions.

The treasurer, the governor, the comptroller general, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee serve on the board.

Ravenel was viewed as a Sanford ally on the board. Just hours before Chellis was chosen by the General Assembly, Sanford's former chief of staff, Henry White, announced he was resigning as the board's executive director, effective Aug. 13.

White, in a statement released Friday morning, said he was pursuing an opportunity to enter a private law practice.