South Carolina is the only state in the nation to elect its adjutant general, a situation that should be rectified this year. The House of Representatives might vote as early as today on a proposal to have the position appointed by the governor. It should give the measure its wholehearted support.
The proposal, sponsored by House Speaker Bobby Harrell and supported by Adjutant General Robert Livingston, would go a long way to assure that the head of South Carolina’s National Guard always meets certain professional standards.
The proposal would require that the candidates fulfill specific criteria, including military experience and education.
Gen. Livingston studied the matter extensively before signing onto the change. His conclusion: “This change in the selection process will go a long way towards removing the politics from our great military. It will allow soldiers, airmen and families to concentrate on their service.”
The problem isn’t with the current leadership of the guard. Gen. Livingston is a combat veteran of broad experience and education and would easily meet the proposed requirements for the position.
But that circumstance could change in a future election. And there have been complaints about the Guard being over-politicized under previous administrations.
Eleven thousand South Carolinians serve in the various branches of the Guard, which has been repeatedly pressed into service in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade.
The adjutant general also is in charge of the state Emergency Management Division. Coastal South Carolina, in particular, recognizes the importance of competent leadership in that role when disasters occur.
Gen. Livingston deserves credit for making an objective call on the matter. He was elected as a Republican without opposition in 2010.
And Rep. Harrell, R-Charleston, deserves credit for maintaining his support of governmental reform despite perennial setbacks experienced in the Senate.
So far this session, the House also has approved a proposal to have the state superintendent of education, currently elected, become an appointed member of the governor’s Cabinet. The plan is backed by the current superintendent, Mick Zais.
And it was supported by a majority of those voting in the Senate last week, but failed to get the necessary two-thirds to send it to a statewide referendum. The measure on the adjutant general faces similar requirements for final approval.
The superintendent vote, however, could be reconsidered later in the session. Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, who supports the proposal, changed his vote to oppose it when became clear that the measure didn’t have the votes to advance to the ballot. Under parliamentary rules, he can bring the matter back to the floor for another vote.
Both proposals recognize the inadequacy of the current system of state governance, under which the governor has authority over only a fraction of state operations.
So does a long-debated plan to create a Department of Administration to supplant the state Budget and Control Board.
Even as legislative ethics reform takes center stage this session, the Legislature should push for these fundamental changes in state governance.
Each proposal would contribute to a more accountable state government under a stronger chief executive.
Achieving that goal is long overdue.