David Wilkins : biography
David Horton Wilkins (born October 12, 1946) is an American attorney and a former U. S. Ambassador to Canada during the administration of President George W. Bush. Prior to the appointment, he practiced law for 30 years while serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives for 25 of those years. He was speaker of the South Carolina House for 11 years. Wilkins presently chairs the public policy and international law practice department of a large South Carolina law firm.
Family life and education
A lifelong resident of South Carolina, Wilkins graduated from Greenville High School, attended Clemson University on a tennis scholarship, and graduated cum laude with a bachelor's degree in 1968. He earned his law degree from the University of South Carolina and then served in the Army as a first lieutenant. In the early 1970s, he returned to Greenville, where he and his wife, Susan, raised their two sons.
Wilkins, a Republican, was first elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1980. He quickly rose through the ranks of the Democratically-controlled House, serving six years as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and two years as speaker pro tem before being elected speaker, a position he held for 11 years. He was the first Republican to elected speaker of any legislative body in the South since Reconstruction and when he retired on June 2, 2005, he was the third longest-serving speaker in South Carolina history.
In his 25 years in the state legislature, Wilkins played a role in major reform legislation including South Carolina’s historic ethics bill and the Education Accountability Act. Wilkins was also a central figure in the relocation of the Confederate battle flag from atop the State Capitol Building to its present location behind the Confederate Memorial.The Confederate Memorial is located in front of the State House, and the placement of the flag there is still being disputed by civil rights groups., The State, Oct 8, 2009 Under his watch, the state adopted the Martin Luther King holiday. As speaker, Wilkins also played a role in banning video gambling from South Carolina and in delaying the establishment of the South Carolina Education Lottery. During the economic recession of the 1990s, Wilkins successfully fought tax increases, and as a result, South Carolina was one of only a handful of states that did not raise its taxes.
Throughout his legislative career, Wilkins received numerous awards including the prestigious 2004 Excellence in State Legislative Leadership Award from the National Conference of State Legislatures which cited his steadfast position for relocating the Confederate flag and his refusal to cancel a national conference in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Wilkins was also named Outstanding Legislator of the Year by a wide range of organizations, and he served as President of the National Speakers' Association and as chair of the Southern Legislative Conference.
Political activities and appointment as ambassador to Canada
Wilkins was state chair of the Bush–Cheney '04 campaign and co-chair of the campaign in 2000. He was appointed by President George W. Bush to the Board of Visitors to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 2002. He was nominated by President Bush for the post of U.S. Ambassador to Canada on April 27, 2005, and the Senate confirmed him by voice vote on May 26, 2005.Thomas Library of Congress. Nomination: PN455-109 Wilkins formally presented his credentials to the Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson on June 29, 2005.
Tenure as ambassador
Upon his arrival in Canada, Wilkins pledged his commitment to "strengthening the ties that bind our two great nations." In an April 2008 interview, Wilkins reiterated that sentiment stating, “we have the largest trading relationship the world's ever known, and I think the best relationship. To just remind ourselves on both sides of the border how important we are to each other and keep trying to make it stronger -- that's certainly my goal.”
Before his appointment, Wilkins had only been to Canada once, when he was in the U.S. Army Reserve three decades prior. However, by the time he had been on the job for nine months, he had traveled to every province and territory in Canada.
In his first 20 months as ambassador, the top irritant between the nations – softwood lumber – was resolved, with the support of most of the Canadian lumber industry. In addition to the softwood lumber dispute, Wilkins addressed a number of other issues including the Northwest Passage, Rendition, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Canada’s role in Afghanistan.
Wilkins resigned his post in early 2009, at the end of President Bush’s second term.
Clemson University activities
Wilkins has served on Clemson University's Board of Visitors, was awarded an honorary doctorate of humanities from Clemson in 2003, and has earned the Alumni Association's Distinguished Service Award. He was elected by the University to a lifetime seat on its 13-member Board of Trustees on March 28, 2007. On July 17, 2009, he was unanimously elected to a two-year term as chair.
Wilkins was frequently named as a potential candidate for governor of South Carolina in 2010. However in August 2008, he announced that he would not seek the post.
In February, 2009, Wilkins became a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP and chairs the Public Policy and International Law practice group, which focuses primarily on representing businesses on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border and offers experience on a range of strategic bilateral issues., Reuters, February 1, 2009.
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