In last year’s election, South Carolina voters strongly approved a state constitutional amendment that would allow candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run on one ticket, with the gubernatorial candidate choosing the running mate. A bill now advancing in the state Senate proposes a change that would be just as momentous, perhaps more so.
A Senate panel has approved a bill that would give the governor the authority to appoint the state superintendent of education. The superintendent currently is elected to a four-year term in a partisan election, and the change would require a constitutional amendment like the one regarding the lieutenant governor.
The amendment must win two-thirds approval from both the Senate and House before going to voters in the 2014 general election. If voters approve, the amendment would take effect with the start of the governor’s term in January 2019.
Under that arrangement, of course, Gov. Nikki Haley, even if reelected, would be out of office before the change was made. Nonetheless, she endorses the move to appointing the superintendent.
So does current superintendent Mick Zais, a first-term Republican who plans to seek reelection in 2014.
With superintendents elected in a partisan election, the governor and superintendent can be members of different parties. In fact, Democrat Jim Rex served as superintendent under Republican Gov. Mark Sanford.
Some might say electing the superintendent can serve to check and balance the authority of the governor regarding education. But it’s difficult to see how that contributes to a cohesive education policy, one of the most important responsibilities of state government.
Under the elective system, the governor has no control over the superintendent and no official capacity to enact whatever educational programs he or she might have campaigned on. If the governor were allowed to choose a superintendent, the two officials would have a shared vision, helping provide a more integrated approach to education in the state.
At the same time, the change would make the governor more directly accountable for the quality of the educational system. And the education chief would answer to the governor.
Proponents of the bill also note that giving the governor authority to choose a superintendent could expand and improve the pool of available candidates. Currently, that pool is limited to candidates within the state who are willing to run.
Potential appointees for the job could include candidates with professional credentials from around the nation.
With an appointed superintendent, voters would lose direct control over who serves in that office. But they would still be electing the governor who appoints the education chief and, we assume, the qualifications a candidate would seek in a superintendent would be a significant issue in any governor’s race.
In addition, the S.C. Board of Education would remain in place under this bill. The board adopts education standards and approves regulations and policies before they go to the General Assembly, which would provide another check on the governor’s authority.
Similar bills have been introduced since 2004, and last year, a similar proposal passed the House 82-28 but failed in the Senate. This is the first time the plan has gained traction in the Senate.
Even if approved by the Legislature, voters still would have the last word at the polls. That also provides ample opportunity to fully debate all sides of the issue.
We hope lawmakers will give voters the chance to hear that debate.