Some political appointments are so boneheaded, so out of touch, so shamelessly arrogant that they can only make you gasp. George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriett Miers to the Supreme Court is an example. Mark Sanford’s nomination of Charlie Condon to the board of the State Ports Authority is another.

The nomination of the former state attorney general came as a shock to many observers. Ken Riley, president of International Longshoreman’s Association 1422, called it a “slap in the face for the maritime community … It’s just incredible.”

State Sen. Robert Ford (D-Charleston) told the Post and Courier he would ask Sanford to withdraw the nomination. “That would be a major blow to Charleston and the state,” he said.

For those not familiar with recent Charleston history, it was Attorney General Condon who drew international headlines and condemnation for the prosecution of five ILA members who took part in a strike against the State Ports Authority.

On the night of Jan. 19, 2000, striking dock workers clashed with several hundred law enforcement officers from a number of state and local agencies. Several heads were bloodied; several arrests were made.

In the long and violent history of American labor relations, the altercation at the Columbus Street Terminal wasn’t even a burp. But it was in South Carolina, and things have a way of getting magnified, distorted, and blown completely out of proportion in the hothouse environment of this little state.

The powers that be in Columbia and at the State Ports Authority wanted to send a message far and wide that labor unrest would not be tolerated in this business-friendly, right-to-work state. But most importantly, Charlie Condon was running for governor.

A Charleston native, Condon is a man of infinite ambition and complete absence of principle. As Ninth Circuit solicitor, he garnered national attention by arresting pregnant women — pregnant black women — who used cocaine and addicted their babies. As attorney general, he took the wrong side on a number of red-meat issues; he supported keeping the Confederate flag on top of the Statehouse and keeping women out of The Citadel.

With the labor disturbance on the Charleston docks, Condon had another issue to grandstand on. Not only would it help him garner corporate financial support for his coming gubernatorial race, but the high-profile case would boost his name recognition beyond his Lowcountry home.

The morning after the rumble on the docks, the attorney general issued a press release announcing a “comprehensive plan for dealing with union dockworker violence and attacks upon police.” The solution, he said: “Jail, jail, and more jail.”

Condon indicted five dockworkers on numerous charges, including rioting and conspiracy. If convicted on all charges, the dockworkers might have gone to jail for decades. But there was little support for the charges among local law enforcement and at City Hall the whole affair was viewed as bad for business and bad for Charleston’s image. The sooner it was resolved, the better.

Condon would not back down, even as dockworkers around the world threatened to go on strike in support of the Charleston 5, as they had come to be known. Condon’s case ultimately came unglued. All the major charges were dropped. On Nov. 13, 2001, the Charleston 5 pled guilty to misdemeanor charges, paid small fines, and walked out of court. Condon had wasted nearly two years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a worthless prosecution. (His gubernatorial race didn’t fare any better.)

This is the man Gov. Sanford now wants to put on the SPA board.

The story of the Charleston 5 will soon be told in a book, On the Global Waterfront — The Fight to Free the Charleston Five, by the husband-and-wife team of Suzan Eram and E. Paul Durrenberger. (Monthly Review Press will release the book in January 2008.)

The nomination “seems to send a signal to the rest of the world that South Carolina endorses the handling of the Charleston 5,” Eram said by phone last week from her home in State College, Penn. “Maybe Charleston doesn’t want to be thought of as a modern port after all.”

Perhaps the thing that makes the nomination so hard to stomach is that ILA 1422 is 98 percent black and Condon is 100 percent white, along with Mark Sanford. The two Republican plutocrats make their homes on Sullivan’s Island, a world away from the sweat and grime of the Charleston docks.

“Charlie Condon doesn’t have any sense of the port as a community,” Eram said, “of people with a common goal to build a better port … In all the research we did on Charlie Condon, we found nothing to indicate he has any qualifications to sit on the SPA … Of all the qualified people who could sit there, why would (Sanford) name such a lightning rod as Charlie Condon?

“It’s a confounding appointment,” she said. “It’s confounding.”