Edwards: the Southern element

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

James B. Edwards, secretary of energy-designate, has a lot of experience in hunting, fishing, and dental surgery, but not much in energy issues -- except for nuclear power.

During his four years as the first Republican governor in a century in South Carolina, he was an enthusiastic proponent of nuclear power. And he welcomed the use of his state as one of the nation's main dumping grounds for nuclear waste.

But Mr. Edwards's strong backing of nuclear power is beginning to draw criticism from such organizations as the Sierra Club, which wants a DOE secretary who will give adequate attention to solar and conservation programs.

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The former governor is also criticized by some for not pushing for legislation to help the poor and minorities while he was in office.

He is drawing further fire from South Carolina Building Trades Council president Charles Murray for being "openly opposed" to organized labor, as Mr. Murray describes it.

But Dr. Edwards, an oral surgeon, has some strong pluses on his side, too.

Foremost, perhaps, is his backing from Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina. Senator Thurmond says he urged President-elect Reagan to consider Edwards, noting that no Southerner had yet been nominated. Shortly after that, Edwards was named.

The affable former governor comes across very well with most people. Even his critics say he is friendly and likable. A friend describes him as a good listener. He is likely to make a good impression at his Senate confirmation hearings.

Edwards, who is married and has a daughter and son, is very much a family man. He once dismayed his campaign staff by leaving a filming session at noon one Saturday to attend a family picnic.

In country courthouses throughout South Carolina, the almost derogatory phrase, "Here come the Republicans," often was heard whenever a few came around. Not so today, says former state GOP chairman, Daniel Ross Jr., adding that Edwards has made the Republican Party in South Carolina much more respected.

And, he says, Edwards could win again if he ran. With the job of closing down the DOE, he might just get the chance.

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