An important reform for S.C.

Photo illustration by Gill Guerry/Staff

The Legislature's approval of a bill to have the state adjutant general appointed by the governor offers an important reform for South Carolina, which is currently the only state that elects the leader of its National Guard.

The bill, recently finalized by the House, would eliminate the unsettling possibility that the voters could put someone in office who is unqualified for the position. It also sets basic educational and service standards for the adjutant general to ensure that the governor chooses a person who is able to do the job.

Voters will decide the issue in a statewide referendum in November. If approved, the change would become effective in January 2019.

The bill had the support of the current adjutant general, Robert E. Livingston Jr., who is running for re-election this year. The election will be decided between the two Republican candidates in the June primary.

The 2019 effective date means Gov. Nikki Haley won't have the opportunity to make the selection, assuming the referendum is approved. (Nor will she benefit from the voters' decision to have the governor and lieutenant governor of each political party run as a team, as do the president and vice president. That reform was endorsed by the voters in the 2012 election, but won't be effective until 2018.)

Nevertheless, the governor rightly hailed the legislative decision:

"That South Carolina will now treat the head of our National Guard the same as every other state in the nation is ... a further leap forward in our efforts to bring our state government into the 21st century. [It] is another huge win for the people of South Carolina."

In a so far disappointing session, it ranks only second to the creation of the Department of Administration as a Cabinet agency in importance as a reform measure.

With the creation of the new Cabinet agency, the executive branch will assume many of the duties which are now the responsibility of the state Budget and Control Board. That change will become effective on July 1, 2015.

Future Legislatures should follow the rationale for making the adjutant general an appointed position and give state voters the opportunity to decide whether the state superintendent of education and agriculture secretary should also be chosen by the governor, and their departments added to the Cabinet. Education in particular is one of the most important responsibilities of the state, and should be under the authority of the state's chief executive.

And the Legislature should look again into the abolishment of the office of Secretary of State, with its budget of $950,000. The 18th century position is no longer required, and its responsibilities could be assumed by the state Department of Revenue at considerable savings to state taxpayers.

That the duties of the office are sufficiently light to allow its current occupant to commute daily to the job in a state vehicle from his home in Spartanburg is an indication that it is a superfluous position.

Given the chance, we'd bet the voters would agree.