Watch Statehouse Week every Friday evening or Sunday afternoon on SCETV  

Move growing to consolidate constitutional officers
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

FEB. 2, 2003 - - Some say new proposals to consolidate the state's constitutional officers under the governor, instead of having people elect them, are gathering steam. But others are starting to raise questions that could slow the process considerably.

In a chamber that often is turtle-like in its embrace of change, a fundamental structural realignment of the state's checks and balances may not spread like wildfire - - even with the GOP controlling the House, Senate and governor's office. Here's why:

Lieutenant Governor. Probably the first consolidation proposal to move through the House will be a measure to allow gubernatorial candidates to pick running mates and for the pair to run as a team at the ballot box. House observers see this as an easy way to start changing the way the state's constitutional officers are elected because they think it should be a no-brainer. But traditionalists in the SC Senate might not make it easy. They worry about expanding the duties of the lieutenant governor, who currently presides over the Senate. Before the way the lieutenant governor is selected is change, senators likely will want some kind of structural concessions from the House, sources say.

Agriculture Commissioner and Secretary of State. Both of these jobs essentially are executive. The agriculture commissioner oversees the Department of Agriculture and the secretary of state keeps business and lobbying records. Because neither function is considered a vital check or balance on the system and is administrative in function, look for these two offices to be the most likely to be changed to gubernatorial control.

Adjutant General. With South Carolina as the only state where the head of the national guard is elected, one would think it would be easy to change this office into a gubernatorial appointment. But concern appears to be spreading in both legislative chambers that allowing the governor to pick the adjutant general would be tantamount to picking someone to lead a political re-election squad. They worry the adjutant general's office somehow would be used by an incumbent as a political base. With the way the system currently is, gubernatorial candidates don't have as easy of a way to tap that base. That's what the adjutant general candidates do.

State Treasurer and Comptroller General. Both of these officials are on the state Budget and Control Board, the executive overseer of government. Both also serve vital functions in checks and balances on government. The treasurer basically is the state's banker who invests state funds. The comptroller general is more like the state's accountant, or watchdog, who ensures the state is spending its appropriations according to law. For the governor to have control of these offices would take away independent voices accountable to the people, critics say. Proponents of changing the way they're picked claim both offices would be accountable because the governor is elected every four years.

It's clear the proposal isn't popular with longtime State Treasurer Grady Patterson, who recently told The State, "His [Sanford's] proposal does not create efficiencies -- all of the functions of government will still occur -- it just eliminates checks and balances and creates a different chain of command."

State Superintendent of Education. It's unclear what will happen with this statewide-elected position. Many say it's long past time the governor has power to oversee education because it makes up about half of the state's $5 billion budget. For a governor to campaign on fixing education and then not being able to steer its budget makes it difficult for him to create change. Others, however, like the idea of the state's top education officer being directly accountable to the people at the ballot box. They say if the office is under the governor, there is less accountability.

Attorney General. While there is a proposal to make the state's top law enforcement officer become a gubernatorial appointment, most believe it is very unlikely to happen. Said one key House leader, "If you bring it under the governor, it could become highly political."


Learn more about Statehouse Report