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Editorial: SC needs more women — and men — to volunteer in state government

SC Women in Leadership

Columbia businesswoman Barbara Rackes speaks on Oct. 27, 2019 at a news conference with SC Gov Henry McMaster and other members of SC Women in Leadership to unveil the group’s Gubernatorial Appointments Project. Photo by Molly Harrell

Sometimes we wonder about that “for” part, but South Carolina’s government certainly is “by the people.”

Part-time boards oversee much of state government — from such high-profile agencies as the ones that set policy for the Transportation Department and the Department of Health and Environmental Control to the more obscure State Board of Barber Examiners and the Governor’s Mansion and Lace House Commission — and governors often have a hard time finding people to fill all 6,600 of those volunteer positions.

Currently, around 1,000 positions are vacant or filled by people whose terms either have ended but who are continuing to serve until a replacement is named. This makes it difficult for the boards to do their jobs, and the high number of appointments makes it all too easy for governors to name anyone they can find who’s willing to serve — regardless of whether they are a good fit.

So it’s encouraging that a new organization, S.C. Women in Leadership, has taken up the cause of recruiting people to apply for those positions.

Organizer Barbara Racks says the goal of the group’s Gubernatorial Appointment Project is to ensure that “there will never be, as long as we are working on this, a reason (for a governor) to say ‘I did not have access to a qualified candidate for one of these boards.’”

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As its name implies, Women in Leadership is focused on recruiting women to public service, and that’s a worthy cause. Women are woefully underrepresented in leadership positions in our government, and government works better when it includes the perspectives of women.

Actually, the diversity that improves government — and all organizations — needs women as well as men, blacks as well as whites or even Democrats as well as Republicans. It includes young, old and every age in between, professionals and laypeople, parents and non-parents, married, single and divorced, rural, urban and suburban, conservative, liberal and centrist, Christians, Jews and people from other faiths and no faith, Lowcountry, Midlands and Upstate — and most other categories you can imagine.

The centerpiece of the appointments project is a database — at scwomenlead.net/gap — that includes information about all the open positions the governor needs to fill, along with qualifications and an online application that women can fill out for the organization to submit to the governor. It’s a good resource not just for women but also for men (who would need to send in their applications themselves) to identify areas of state government where they might want to serve.

The SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs has a tough time serving people with intellectual disabilities, autism and brain and spinal injuries. But it's on auto-pilot after three departures left its part-time governing board unable to conduct business. It's an extreme example of what can go wrong when we ask the governor to fill 6,600 state and local boards.

As Gov. Henry McMaster explained in unveiling the database, the applications don’t have a space for political identity, and “We’re looking for people — men, women, every walk of life.” Mostly, he said, he hopes the effort will “encourage the people of South Carolina to, as they say in athletics, get out of the stands and get down on the field and get to work.”

We don’t think it makes sense to have so much of state government controlled by part-time boards; we’d prefer for the governor to be able to directly hire and fire the directors of most state agencies. But as long as this is the way our government operates, it’s important to get the best people, and the best range of people, to fill those boards.

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