BALOG COLUMN: Project XX aims to increase representation on boards, commissions
You may not know that the state law says the governor and legislators, when making appointments to boards and commissions, “shall strive to assure that the membership of the board is representative of all citizens of the State of South Carolina.”
In practical terms, that means the composition of those boards ought to mirror the composition of the citizenry. South Carolina is 51 percent female and 32 percent African-American, but women make up only 27 percent of board and commission members, African Americans only 14 percent.
All this information is now easily available because of the work of Project XX — that's Project Double-X — South Carolina, co-founded by Skirt! publisher Nikki Hardin and Ginny Deerin, founder and former CEO of WINGS for Kids and president of Learn to Win.
They've formed a federal Super PAC and a 501(c)(4) nonprofit dedicated to increasing the number of progressive women elected or appointed to state offices.
There are eight university boards with seats up for grabs this spring. The addition of the 7th Congressional District means there are new seats on these boards and commissions, so the focus can be on adding people to achieve a better balance, not trying to get rid of people who are already there.
MUSC's board of trustees, for example, has no female board members. (Don't believe their website, which hasn't been updated since 2011, when the governor decided to replace Dr. Paula Orr, a black woman, with Dr. Harold Jablon, a white man.)
“Nobody can make a reasonable case that you're 'striving and assuring' when you have 100 percent white males,” Deerin said.
The boards are who the top folks in the organization answer to. So, MUSC's President Ray Greenberg works for the MUSC board. Catherine Templeton works for the DHEC board. The board members are the folks who determine and shape the leadership of these institutions.
A joint legislative screening committee will meet March 25-27 to interview the 81 candidates for the available seats on eight boards. After that, a screening report will be released, and candidates start getting legislative commitments for votes. This is what Deerin referred to, not entirely in jest, as the bully process. The best strategy appears to be going hard early, because the folks with fewer committed votes tend to get pressured into dropping out. By the time the vote is taken they pretty much know who'll get the seats.
So we'll know in a couple of months whether shining some light on the process will improve the outcome and the makeup of the boards.
This is the group's first project. They plan to continue with a professional, statewide approach, targeting a few races this fall and then helping those seeking higher office in 2014.
For now, there are 14 seats up for grabs that have at least one female candidate. Will exposure and attention to the process be enough to make legislators change the way they vote?
Project XX hopes so.
At least 51 percent of the state hopes so too.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.