In March 1991 Governor Carroll Campbell appointed the thirty-eight-member Commission on Government Restructuring to devise a blueprint for enhancing the powers of the state’s weak chief executive. While reform had often been studied in South Carolina, this effort came in the wake of the shocking “Lost Trust” legislative scandal, which provided a clear pretext for fundamental change. Subsequently, the State newspaper published the ambitious “Power Failure” series, which placed the blame for the corruption on the 1895 S.C. Constitution, which permitted the 170 members of the General Assembly to control state agencies by naming the boards that ran them. When scandals broke, the governor was usually powerless to do anything about them.
The report, issued in September 1991, called for a dramatic shift to a cabinet form of government similar to that used in forty states. Almost all agencies and boards would be reorganized into fifteen cabinet departments with directors appointed by the governor. Citing Theodore Roosevelt, the report called for “a strong executive leader, [and] clear lines of authority and responsibility.” It would allow the power of the state’s executive to match the perception held by voters that the governor is the key mover in government.
Reelected in a landslide on a reform platform, Campbell was in a good position to push for reform. However, the determination of lawmakers to maintain their power and agencies to maintain their independence combined to scuttle the plan in 1992. As key business leaders continued to insist on a government overhaul, a weakened version of the plan passed the following year after efforts were dropped to place restructuring in the constitution. On July 1, 1993, Campbell was given a cabinet of thirteen departments, with the ability to hire and fire at will eleven of those agency’s leaders. However, key agencies in charge of highways, mental health, and the environment remained beyond the governor’s full control.
South Carolina Commission on Government Restructuring. Modernizing South Carolina State Government for the Twenty-First Century. Columbia: South Carolina Commission on Government Restructuring, 1991.
Young, Richard D. State Reorganization in South Carolina: Theories, History, Practices and Further Implications. Columbia: University of South Carolina Institute for Public Service and Policy Research, 2002.