Scoppe: You too can be a general — in South Carolina

Associate EditorApril 9, 2014 

— AFTER WE talk about why he is running for office in South Carolina in 2014, I read William James Breazeale a bit of an online column someone had sent me about his run for Congress from North Carolina in 2010, the part about “a lurid personal history which includes references to intimidation, aggravated stalking, criminal trespass, larceny, threats of suicide, and even threats of murder directed by Breazeale at members of his own family.”

Mr. Breazeale is unfazed. And not about to make a long story short. “All I would say about that is he is not a legitimate reporter. … That guy was on the staff of my opponent who was running against me for Congress. My opponent … was a Marine who shot and killed two of his prisoners with 60 bullets.”

He goes into detail about the shooting and the murder trial and then notes that after defeating him in the GOP primary and losing to the Democratic incumbent in the coastal district, the Marine was appointed head of Veterans Affairs for North Carolina.

“I’m in awe that they did that,” Mr. Breazeale says. “He works in the same department that my ex-wife works in. … So anyway, to explain those ridiculous accusations: That reporter … was on the attack on me to deflect criticism against his own candidate that murdered two people. I’m not going to dignify any of that with a response. All I will say is I’ve never, ever been convicted of any crime, and throughout all of his quote accusations in that area, I had a secret security clearance for the U.S. Army.”

So no one filed police reports alleging stalking and threats and such, I ask. “Oh sure, sure,” he says. “But allegations are just that, but in this country you’re innocent until proven guilty. It’s just totally ridiculous to even comment on any of that.”

I ask him if he has run for any other offices, and he talks about running for school board in Florence County while he was in high school and running in that same congressional district in 2008, and before I know it, he’s back to the 2010 race.

“I did not win the nomination in 2010, partly because of that Marine which I’m still pinching myself that he beat me with his record, but that shows you how bad money is,” Mr. Breazeale says. “Ninety-nine percent of the time in politics, the person with the most money wins, even a guy who should have been in jail for murder. Now he wasn’t convicted, so I can t say he did it. … He hadn’t worked for seven years prior to that election; that’s why he got people to write things like that about me.”

James for General

And now Mr. Breazeale is running again, only he’s not running for the Congress this time. He’s running for adjutant general in South Carolina, the only place in the free world where the military leader is selected by the voters rather than by the elected civilian leader.

His website is JamesForGeneral.com, which seems appropriate because the only way Mr. Breazeale is likely to become a general is if the voters in the June Republican primary decide to override the military meritocracy and leapfrog the commercial pilot from lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves to adjutant general of the S.C. National Guard. (If voters do that, the Pentagon still will not consider him a general, but the people of South Carolina will, sort of.)

There’s not a great chance that Mr. Breazeale will oust Adjutant General Bob Livingston, but Mr. Livingston will have to take time from running the National Guard to campaign, and he’ll need to raise money, which will get us right back into that whole asking-your-subordinates-for-cash problem that we always have when the adjutant general runs for re-election. Which is one of the reasons — certainly not the only reason, but one of the reasons — that we shouldn’t be electing the adjutant general.

Mr. Breazeale also has a long and convoluted story about how he came to be on probation following 2013 charges that he was stalking his second ex-wife: She was a corrupt city manager, he says, and he blew the whistle on her, and she had him arrested by her own police department, and he wasn’t actually convicted — he describes it as “like a pre-trial intervention” — and then she used her political connections to get a job in the N.C. Department of Administration, where the Marine who beat him in 2010 also works. And I can call his attorney if I want the legal details, and his ex-wife has signed a document disavowing her stalking charges, and he’s planning to hold a news conference next week to clear the air.

Let’s assume that every bit of what he says is true. It doesn’t matter. Yes, it’s disturbing that he would have married two women in a row who were volatile enough to call the cops on him when he did absolutely nothing wrong. But it wouldn’t be the reason not to vote for him for adjutant general. The reason not to vote for him for adjutant general is much more basic than that.

The S.C. exception

Is lieutenant colonel promotable to general, I ask. Again, he doesn’t hesitate: “In South Carolina it is; if you’re elected by the people you’re a general. But I am qualified to be a full-bird colonel.”

Hold that first thought, and let’s talk about Mr. Breazeale’s contention that he is “qualified to be a full-bird colonel.” Besides being a statement that could be made by the half of lieutenant colonels in the U.S. Army who never make colonel, except as a courtesy title before they retire, it’s also sort of like me saying “I’m qualified to win a Pulitzer.” Which is true, but meaningless until the people who give out that prize agree.

Now back to the first point, which is the point. To answer the unanswered part of my question: No. A lieutenant colonel cannot be promoted to general, any more than a private can be promoted to general. The only way a lieutenant colonel can become a general is if you go outside of the military and bestow the rank on someone through political manipulation.

Mr. Breazeale noted that Georgia’s governor appointed a captain as adjutant general, and that does tell us quite a lot … about Georgia. It tells us that Georgia’s governor is able to use a convoluted non-military maneuver to get around that state’s requirement that an adjutant general be at least a major. Which is a lower standard than our state would have if we changed our constitution to let governors appoint adjutant generals.

Which we need to do.

Last year, the House voted 108-4 to ask voters to do just that: let the governor appoint the head of South Carolina’s military agency. The House passed H.3541 because, unlike all of his predecessors, Gen. Livingston asked legislators to pass it. Because he understands the corrupting influence of money, and the danger of having someone who is not qualified in charge of the National Guard.

For the same reason, a Senate committee quickly approved that legislation and the enabling legislation, which would spell out the qualifications for an adjutant general and how a governor would go about hiring and firing one.

But for more than a year, the legislation has sat undebated on the Senate calendar because Sen. Gerald Malloy doesn’t want it debated. And the Senate doesn’t debate bills that a single senator objects to unless a super-majority votes to give it one of the coveted priority debate slots. Which the Senate has not done.

If our senators haven’t met James Breazeale, they should. Or they at least should check out the JamesForGeneral.com website. Then maybe they would understand why they need to make this legislation a priority.

Ms. Scoppe can be reached at cscoppe@thestate.com or at (803) 771-8571. Follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.

The State is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service