IT WAS SUCH a simple concept: Instead of this crazy spectacle of having people run separate campaigns to serve on gubernatorial death-watch, let the candidates for governor pick their own running mates, just like the candidates for president pick their running mates.
When the Legislature finally let voters amend the constitution to do that, we did, overwhelmingly. That was six years ago.
It took the Legislature two years just to ratify that decision, which is supposed to take effect this year. A year and a half later, when then-Gov. Nikki Haley was about to leave her post to then-Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, we discovered that the ratification legislation had been inartfully drafted. So inartfully that the Supreme Court had to intervene to decree that, no, the amended constitution did not actually mean that the governor could already fill vacancies in the office of lieutenant governor even before he could pick his running mate, even though it says that. And in so doing, the court prevented a host of horribles that hyperventilating lawmakers had feared with a different ruling.
And that was the easy part.
The House and Senate still had to agree on how the running mates would be picked — and what would happen to all sorts of laws that were written when we had a separately elected lieutenant governor rather than one who is essentially an appendage of the governor.
Amazingly, they agreed on nearly all of those changes, from abolishing many positions that lieutenant governors fill on state boards to decreeing that they would have whatever duties the governor assigned them. Most importantly, they agreed that gubernatorial nominees would pick their running mates after they win their party nominations, that the gubernatorial nominees’ names would not appear on the ballot if they did not designate running mates and that, no, the lieutenant governor candidate could not raise campaign funds independently of the gubernatorial campaign.
(The worst agreement: turning the Office on Aging into a freestanding Department of Aging, and bringing the number of stand-alone state agencies to about 53 million. Rather than making it part of the Department of Social Services, or some other related agency, as it should be.)
Yet nine months after the House and Senate both passed it, S.107 remains stuck in a House-Senate conference committee. The problem? The House tacked on an unrelated amendment to raise the pay for all statewide elected officers and judges.
Technically, what the House did is probably not unconstitutional bobtailing, at least not entirely so. The pay for those officers is set in state law, and the House bill raises the lieutenant governor’s pay, which is a legitimate change to include in a bill that changes how that person is elected. And if a bill raises the lieutenant governor’s pay, it is certainly germane to raise the pay for those other officers, which is set in the same section of state law. The judges’ pay is a bit iffier, but not clearly across the line.
(Technically, too, the bill does not raise anyone’s pay. It directs the Agency Head Salary Commission to study and set their salaries, and reset it every four years. In the real world, we know what will happen.)
Regardless of the constitutionality, there is no reason that changing how the lieutenant governor is elected should result in raising the pay for the secretary of state. Or the agriculture commissioner. Or the attorney general. Or judges.
Moreover, there is something fundamentally wrong with hijacking a bill that implements a constitutional amendment — even for a good purpose. As the bill’s author, Sen. Chip Campsen, told me: “When we amend the constitution, that is the most sacred thing we do.”
This might be just another one of those ridiculous legislative standoffs if not for the fast-approaching period for candidates to file for office. The state constitution says that, starting with the 2018 election, gubernatorial candidates will pick their running mates. And this is 2018.
Now, we all know that whenever the House comes to its senses, the law is going to say that said running mates are not picked until after the June primaries. But it doesn’t say that yet, and if you’re the person in charge of running the elections, you realize that there is a theoretical possibility that it could end up saying gubernatorial candidates must name their running mates when they file for office. Which they must do between March 16 and March 30. What you don’t know is what you should do if we get to March 16 and there is no law.
Sen. Harvey Peeler started last week by filing legislation directing the Election Commission to decide how this year’s nominees would pick their running mates. He ended the week by introducing a bill that delays filing for all offices, and the primaries. The bill notes that “the will of the people of this State is being thwarted by opposition to implementing legislation that is based upon an issue that was not contained in the question on the 2012 ballot, was not contemplated by the voters when voting in favor of the constitutional amendment, and has nothing to do with the question of how to implement the will of the voters.”
House members say it’s unfair to raise the pay for the lieutenant governor and not for the other constitutional officers. It’s not, but let’s assume it is. There’s a really easy solution: Just leave the pay where it is, as the Senate did. And go ahead and do that now; our election system is under enough duress these days without creating more.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at email@example.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.