Kaine: Dems Right to Threaten Block

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
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    Gov. Tim Kaine

    Senate Democrats would be right to block Gov.-elect Bob McDonnell's choice for state commerce secretary if he does not step down from three corporate boards, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said Friday.

    The Senate Democrats have said they have enough votes to reject Commerce Secretary-designate Robert Sledd because they fear his involvement with the large companies creates a conflict of interest. He serves on the boards of a tobacco company and suppliers of the medical and swimming pool industries.

    Kaine said the Democrats raised a legitimate issue.

    "You shouldn't have two masters in this line of work: a corporate board that could cause some to question whether you have mixed loyalties or not," Kaine said during a question-and-answer session carried live on the Richmond Times-Dispatch's Web site.

    Kaine said he had not allowed his Cabinet members to serve on corporate boards, and that he didn't serve on any corporate boards in his 16 years of elected office.

    "The Senate Democrats would like to vote for Bob Sledd," Kaine said, calling Sledd a good and talented man. "They just feel that this corporate board issue is one that is a kind of a fairly basically ethical issue that hopefully can be solved."

    Kaine is the only governor in Virginia's history to have a Cabinet pick blocked.

    Four years ago, House Republicans rejected Kaine's pick for secretary of the commonwealth, Danny LeBlanc, because he had been president of the state's AFL-CIO and an outspoken critic of Virginia's right-to-work law, which bans mandatory union membership.

    Kaine later named LeBlanc his senior adviser for work force issues.

    Sledd and McDonnell's other Cabinet appointments will be sworn-in on Sunday -- a day after McDonnell takes office -- but the House and Senate must later confirm them.

    There is no timetable for the confirmation vote, and the appointees can begin their jobs in the meantime.

    Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, said at least 22 of the state's 40 senators have said they will not approve Sledd's confirmation if he remains on the boards. They would need a majority to block him. Howell said she had spoken to someone from McDonnell's staff about the issue, but that she and others would not back down.

    "We had expected to confirm all of his nominations, but we did not anticipate he'd send somebody's name who had serious conflicts of interest," Howell said. "In fact I'm surprised that they're so tone-deaf on the conflict."

    Howell said the Democrats fear that Sledd's interests would be split between the companies and the citizens.

    "To serve on a corporate board you have a fiduciary responsibility to do what's in the best interest of that business," she said. "If you're a Cabinet secretary, you have a responsibility to do what's best for the people of Virginia, and they are not necessarily the same thing."

    Howell chairs the Senate Privileges and Elections committee, which must approve any Cabinet appointee before the rest of the chamber votes on that person. She said she would like to expedite the proceedings.

    Sledd has said he would give up his state salary of about $152,000 a year if he could remain on the boards. He says he donates the $200,000 he gets for serving on the boards to charity.

    Sledd is a former chief executive of Performance Food Group and is a managing partner of Pinnacle Ventures LLC.

    At issue is his seat on the boards of tobacco company Universal Corp. and medical supply company Owens & Minor, both of Richmond, and SCP Pool Corp. of Louisiana, which is a wholesale supplier for the pool and spa industries.

    As secretary, Sledd would oversee 13 state agencies that regulate business and would be privy to confidential state information that could help the corporations he also serves.

    McDonnell seemed optimistic when asked about Sledd's chances of getting confirmed on Friday.

    "We're going to find ways to work all that out," he said, refusing to elaborate.