S.C. House passes bill to restructure government

Legislation faces uphill battle in Senate

COLUMBIA -- Voters could get a say in November on whether the state's constitution should be changed to allow certain statewide offices to be appointed by the governor.

Currently, the positions, which include the lieutenant governor, superintendent of education and secretary of state, are elected.

This latest restructuring bill, which the House passed Wednesday, has the backing of such lawmakers as Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, who says it will increase government accountability and efficiency. It also has the support of some members of the Legislative Black Caucus, like chairman Leon Howard, D-Richland.

"We haven't had an African-American in one of those constitutional posts since the 1800s," Howard said. "We feel we'll have a better chance if the jobs are appointed by the governor."

But the latest ETV/Winthrop poll shows about 76 percent of respondents want the positions to remain elected ones.

"You're voting against your own constituents' wishes," Rep. Walt McLeod, D-Newberry, told lawmakers from the House floor.

House minority leader Harry Ott, D-Calhoun, agreed.

"I believe the people of S.C. have the right to vote on every constitutional office," he said. "You're voting to take that choice away from the voters who voted to put you here, by the way."

Republicans such as House majority leader Jim Merrill of Charleston said the bill would be the ultimate poll.

"We're going to put it on the ballot and let the people decide," he said.

The bill also would require the governor and lieutenant governor to run on one ticket.

The bill still needs approval from two-thirds of the Senate before it can appear on the ballot in November. And it's likely to be an uphill battle.

Past government restructuring bills have been passed by the House but not the Senate, raising the ire of Gov. Mark Sanford, who has made restructuring a centerpiece of his tenure.