Opinion

April 28, 2014

The Cabinet explanation that explains nothing

One of the stranger justifications I’ve heard for the bill and joint resolution that together would actually emasculate the attorney general is that legislators wanted to create a mechanism to allow criminal investigations when legislative committees uncover problems during hearings such as the ones the Senate has been holding into the Department of Social Services.

One of the stranger justifications I’ve heard for the bill and joint resolution that together would actually emasculate the attorney general is that legislators wanted to create a mechanism to allow criminal investigations when legislative committees uncover problems during hearings such as the ones the Senate has been holding into the Department of Social Services.

Rep. James Smith gave me the Senate’s DSS investigation as an example of why the Legislature needed to be able to appoint a special prosecutor.

What’s strange is that the legislation wouldn’t actually do that, on two counts. (For a look at the other problems with the legislation, check out my Sunday column.)

First, it only empowers legislators to launch investigations involving ethics violations. Beyond that, and contrary to what just about everybody who has talked about this legislation has asserted, the bill doesn’t cover Cabinet appointees. It covers only elected officials and protected appointees — people the governor appoints but can’t remove except after a finding of malfeasance, neglect of duty and the like. This too-long list includes the DHEC, SLED and Public Safety directors, Ethics and Elections commissioners and Workers Compensation commissions.

Cabinet members are Cabinet members by their absence from this list — that is, by the fact that they work at the will of the governor, and can be fired at any time for any or no reason.

I’ve always assumed that legislators were deliberately trying to disempower the governor when they introduced bills that created new agencies or reorganized existing agencies and said the governor could remove the directors “pursuant to Section 1-3-240(C)(1).” But this makes me wonder if perhaps legislators have just never bothered reading Section 1-3-240(C)(1), which is dramatically different than 1-3-240(B), which sets out the rules for removing the vast majority of gubernatorial appointees.

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