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UPDATED: Key committee chairwoman will vote against McDonnell nominee

Rosalind Helderman

Democratic Sen. Janet Howell (Fairfax), who chairs the Senate committee that considers gubernatorial appointments, said this evening that she will vote against the confirmation of Robert Sledd, Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell's pick for commerce secretary, unless Sledd steps down from three corporate boards on which he serves.

McDonnell has said he has no problem with Sledd's service on the boards of a tobacco company, a medical supplies distributor and a pool equipment company, and does not believe Sledd would face conflicts of interest due to the dual role. Sledd, a respected businessman who successfully grew his own company, has also said he gives his salary from the boards to charity. But Howell said she believes the unusual arrangement would in fact create a conflict, or at least the perception of a conflict, in the eyes of the public.

"The public thinks we're all corrupt anyway," she said. "This just feeds that image."

"On the one hand, he has a fiduciary responsibility to represent the company's interests," she added. "On the other hand, he's supposed to be serving the public ... it's not personal."

Howell's Privileges and Elections Committee will be the first to consider Sledd's nomination in the Senate. If it chooses to remove his name from consideration by the full body, his name could be restored on the floor of the chamber. If Democrats wanted to reject his nomination, they would have to hold their full 21-member caucus together. It would be only the second time since the modern cabinet was created in the 1970s that the legislature rejected a gubernatorial nominee. The first was four years ago, when Republicans in the House of Delegates rejected Gov. Tim Kaine's pick of AFL-CIO leader Daniel LeBlanc as secretary of the commonwealth.

Update, 8:16 p.m.: McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin responds: "Bob Sledd is one of the most successful job-creators in Virginia. He will be extremely effective in attracting new employers to the Commonwealth and helping to create the good paying jobs Virginians need in this difficult economy."

By Rosalind Helderman  |  January 11, 2010; 6:59 PM ET
Categories:  Robert F. McDonnell , Rosalind Helderman  
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