The South Carolina House is expected to vote later this week to possibly finalize a bill to make the state's adjutant general position appointed by future governors instead of elected by voters. South Carolina is the only state in the nation that elects its adjutant general, who's in charge of the state National Guard.
Current adjutant general MG Bob Livingston says, "We are the only legitimate military in the world that elects its leader from a popular vote." He says that makes the position suspect in Washington because there also are no required qualifications for the job.
Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, who's also a major in the state National Guard, says that means somebody could win the election just by having a good campaign. "It's just a question of who could raise the most money to be the adjutant general, not necessarily who has got the best qualities and the right experience and who has performed well on their officer evaluation reports," he says.
The bill would also put new required qualifications on the job. Whoever is appointed by a future governor would have to have the rank of general, have National Guard experience, and have attended a graduate-level military college.
Livingston says, "In the past, fortunately, the voters of South Carolina have always elected a qualified person, but it's been very close a couple of times where we almost did not have a qualified person. And that would be devastating for our state mission and our federal mission."
The House and Senate have both passed the bill, but the Senate made some changes, so the vote this week will be whether the House will agree to those changes. If the bill becomes law, voters this fall would get to decide whether to change the state constitution to make the job appointed instead of elected. If a majority approves, a future governor would choose the first appointed adjutant general in January 2019.
Smith says making the job appointed also takes the politics out of a non-political job. "Having the situations where members of the Guard, who are under that strict military chain of command, also contributing to an election of their leader is just kind of inconsistent," he says. "I think we all look at that and see it just doesn't seem right."
Livingston is running for re-election to one more term. He has a Republican primary opponent, James Breazeale, who's a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. Breazeale thinks the job should remain elected by the people to provide more accountability.