WE WOULD never suggest that South Carolina should do something just because everyone else is doing it. That begs the question our mothers used to ask us about following our friends headlong off a cliff.
But when we hold to a centuries-old tradition that has been abandoned by 49 other states, our federal government and every country in the free world, it’s worth considering whether it makes sense.
Electing the director of our military department does not.
The adjutant general oversees the S.C. National Guard, an 11,000-member force that plays an increasingly important role in our national defense. If our Guard is weak, the U.S. military is weak, and our nation is weak. And by electing our adjutant general, we make it too easy for our National Guard to be weakened.
That’s because the only qualification for the adjutant general is winning an election. He doesn’t have to be a general, or even a colonel. He doesn’t have to be a member of the S.C. National Guard. He doesn’t have to have served a day in the military. He just has to be a good politician. We’ve never elected anyone who wasn’t a National Guard general, but we as voters have done lots of things in recent years that we never would have thought possible.
Constitutional Amendment 2 on Tuesday’s ballot would allow the governor to appoint the adjutant general. And a law that will take effect if voters approve the change restricts the governor’s choice to active members of the National Guard who have significant command experience and are qualified to hold a federally recognized post of general. The governor could appoint retired Guard officers who meet those qualifications, as long as they aren’t past the federal retirement age — as our elected adjutants general too often have been.
We long have argued that, at the very least, the Legislature should establish military qualifications for the position, but legislators refused, some arguing that it would unconstitutionally restrict voters’ choices. Clearly, the only way we’ll get qualifications written into the law is in conjunction with gubernatorial appointment.
Additionally, running for office takes the adjutant general away from his job, and it usually requires him to solicit campaign donations. Too often, adjutants general turn to the troops for donations. Even if they don’t mean to be coercive when they ask for money from people whose careers they control, the troops can believe there’s a quid pro quo involved, which ill serves our democracy and undermines military morale.
Adopting a system that supports the meritocracy for which the U.S. military is known is supported by Gov. Nikki Haley and her challenger, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, by the chairmen of the state Republican and Democratic parties, by S.C. Adjutant General Bob Livingston. Legislation to put the question to voters passed unanimously in the state Senate and 108-4 in the House
Maybe all of those people are wrong. But we have yet to hear a single argument that even begins to suggest that they are. Vote yes on Amendment 2, to make sure our military commanders are selected based on merit rather than popularity. Even more basically, vote yes on Amendment 2 to make sure our military commanders are actually in the military.