In a rare moment of bipartisanship just two weeks before Election Day, the chairmen of South Carolina’s Democratic and Republican parties announced a joint campaign that will ask voters to end South Carolina’s status as the only state that still elects its military chief by popular vote.
A state constitutional amendment on the ballot this November asks voters whether the governor should instead appoint South Carolina’s adjutant general position, and sets qualifications for the job. The Adjutant General oversees the South Carolina National Guard, Air National Guard, and State Guard, as well as the state Emergency Management Division.
SC Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison and his SCGOP counterpart Matt Moore announced a new media campaign to urge voters to support Amendment 2. Joining them in that call is the man who currently holds the Adjutant General’s post Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston. Livingston said he believes the “Vote Yes” campaign is needed because many voters do not know what an adjutant general even does.
“When I ran last time, I would ask the question, ‘How many people know what the adjutant general does?’” he told reporters. “And probably 70 percent of the people didn’t know. And they were going to go vote.”
He added that even those voters who were familiar with the job did not realize that the state constitution sets no requirements for the office, meaning a candidate without a military leadership background could conceivably run and win. State Rep. James Smith, R-Columbia, who sponsored the amendment when it passed the Statehouse this spring, said South Carolina has been fortunate in electing qualified, honorable generals throughout its history.
“We’ve dodged a bullet,” Smith, who is also a major in the National Guard, said. “We’ve had some candidates who would have been a disaster. An absolute morale killer.”
If approved by voters, the governor would appoint the adjutant general with the advice and consent of the Senate. The nominee must be a major general with active Guard status and at least 10 years experience in the Guard or five years in the Guard as a lieutenant colonel or higher rank. The officer must also be a graduate of the Army War College, Air War College, or other military institution equivalent and have command experience at least the battalion or squadron level.
Livingston said about two dozen officers would be eligible for the position under those requirements, which would take effect once Livingston’s second term ends in 2019. He is unopposed next month.
Lawmakers said Livingston’s support was key in moving forward with the legislation. SC Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said his party didn’t even field a candidate this year because they did not think anyone should challenge Gen. Livingston.
“To a person, Democrats that I talked with had such respect for Gen. Livingston that we did not field a candidate in that race,” he said.
Moore said the change is part of a larger goal to restructure the state’s government, a goal he said both parties share. “We are doing our best as Republicans and Democrats in this state to reform what we believe to be South Carolina’s antiquated system of government,” he told reporters.
South Carolina is the only state that elects its top military officer via popular vote, Livingston said.
The proposed amendment passed the legislature by overwhelming margins, 108-4 in the House and 39-0 in the Senate.
-Matt Long is Managing Editor for South Carolina Radio Network