Opinion

Appoint state officers

Quick quiz: Name South Carolina's comptroller general.

OK, time's up. Richard Eckstrom is the comptroller general. And you get extra points if you can describe the duties of this constitutional office.

The point of this exercise is not to suggest that Eckstrom is an obscure public official or that his function is not an important one. We do, however, suspect that few South Carolinians could name the comptroller general -- or the adjutant general, the state treasurer, the agriculture commissioner or many of the other state constitutional officers.

And yet all those who serve in nine statewide offices are elected by the voters.

Gov. Mark Sanford has made governmental restructuring a centerpiece of his administration. He has lobbied for a constitutional amendment that would allow the governor to appoint many or all of these statewide officers instead of electing them.

A bill to place an amendment on the ballot requires a two-thirds majority in both the state House and Senate. Then it must be approved by a majority of voters.

Restructuring bills have passed in the House but died in the Senate. Last week, however, the House approved a measure that would allow the governor to appoint the state superintendent of education and secretary of state. The bill also would require the governor and lieutenant governor -- who would be chosen by the respective candidates for governor -- to run on a ticket.

We think the bill falls well short of truly substantive reform. Most of these offices should be appointive, with officers serving as the equivalent of the governor's cabinet.

But this bill is a start, and we hope it receives serious consideration this year in the Senate. That, however, is certain to be an uphill battle.

And even if this measure appears on the ballot in November, voter approval is unlikely. The latest ETV/Winthrop poll indicates that three-quarters of South Carolina voters want the positions to remain elected ones.

It is, perhaps, understandable that many South Carolinians would want to preserve the right to choose these state officers. They no doubt have the notion that the officers will be more accountable to the public as long as they have to run for office.

But, as noted, few voters have any idea as to what the duties of these offices are, who now serves in them or, on election day, which candidates are best qualified to serve. Nor do voters pay much attention to what most of these office-holders do once elected unless they become mired in a controversy or scandal of some kind.

A good case can be made that officers appointed and overseen by the governor would increase efficiency, cohesiveness and, in many cases, the quality of those who serve. Allowing the governor to appoint state officers might also make state government more diverse.

Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, supports restructuring: "We haven't had an African-American in one of those constitutional posts since the 1800s," he said. "We feel we'll have a better chance if the jobs are appointed by the governor."

Even if voters aren't currently disposed to make that change, we hope they get the chance to decide in November.

IN SUMMARY

House has passed a bill that would let voters choose whether to restructure state government.

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