Jeff Duncan wins seat on powerful Energy and Commerce Committee

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. participates in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. participates in a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. AP

Since his election to Congress in the fall of 2010, Rep. Jeff Duncan’s star hasn’t soared as high as the other three South Carolina Republicans in his freshman class.

Starting this week, he’ll get his turn to shine, because Tuesday he won a coveted seat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

His House colleagues formally voted him onto the committee, a day after the House GOP Steering Committee — made up of members of leadership officials, regional representatives and other committee chairmen — recommended the South Carolina Republican be the newest member of the highly sought-after panel.

It’s difficult to understate the significance of this development for Duncan, both personally and professionally.

Among fellow state lawmakers elected to the House seven years ago, Tim Scott became a senator, Mick Mulvaney is now the White House budget director and Trey Gowdy is chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Duncan has even seen the second most junior member of the state’s congressional delegation, Republican Tom Rice, win a slot on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, another one of the most influential House panels.

“When people think about the South Carolina delegation nationally, or even in Washington, they think of Trey Gowdy or Tim Scott. Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, to some degree,” Duncan recently told McClatchy. “I’m not one of the first names that come to mind, and that’s fine, as long as the voters of the 3rd District remember me when they go to the ballot box.”

Membership on this particular committee, which has 31 Republicans and 24 Democrats, will allow Duncan a bigger platform to grow his political star and name recognition.

It’s no secret the congressman is ambitious, at one point even quietly exploring a run for governor in 2018. Some South Carolina political observers are even whispering about whether Duncan could launch a viable primary challenge to Graham in 2020.

Because the issues before Energy and Commerce are tied to powerful interests, members are courted by some of the most deep-pocketed lobby groups. That makes committee membership a lucrative prospect for lawmakers eager to collect more money for their war chests — and make influential connections for the future, for re-election campaigns or otherwise.

Duncan also now finds himself poised to be an official player in some of the day’s most significant policy debates. The committee has jurisdiction over health policy, food and drug safety, environmental quality and telecommunications. Duncan has been trying over the past several years to solidify a reputation as a conservative expert on energy issues.

As a member of the state legislature, Duncan was a member of the Southern States Energy Board, a coalition of 16 states, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico dedicated to improving economic conditions in the South through better energy and environmental practices. He also served on the South Carolina Natural Gas Offshore Drilling Study Committee.

On Capitol Hill, he used his chairmanship of the House Foreign Affairs western hemisphere subcommittee to hold hearings on energy security in the Americas. He also is a fierce defender of an “all of the above” approach to attaining domestic energy independence, which includes promoting seismic testing and offshore oil drilling. Both practices are maligned by conservationists as dangerous to the environment.

Duncan’s ascent to Energy and Commerce will be considered a boon for South Carolina, too, at a time when state is exploring ways to be competitive in the energy sector, through drilling and seismic testing and nuclear power. The last South Carolinian to win a permanent seat on the panel was the late Republican Carroll Campbell, who served in the House from 1979-1987 before becoming governor.

Emma Dumain: 202-383-6126, @Emma_Dumain