Haley, other supporters need to campaign for change in selection of lieutenant governor

In 1990, Gov. Carroll Campbell and Attorney General Travis Medlock diverted $25,000 from their re-election campaigns to run radio ads opposing a constitutional amendment that would have made it tougher to prosecute public corruption cases.

The amendment, to limit the jurisdiction of the still-new State Grand Jury, was put on the ballot before the federal corruption sting dubbed Lost Trust broke and it became clear that state officials needed that power, but Mr. Campbell and Mr. Medlock weren’t willing to take the chance that voters would make the connection.

A decade later, Gov. Jim Hodges wasn’t on the ballot, but one of his pet issues was: the lottery. So he cranked up his political machine and helped convince voters to change the constitution to set up a state gambling enterprise.

Our state is better for the Campbell-Medlock effort, worse for the Hodges effort, but that’s beside the point.

The point is this: When governors care about the outcome of a constitutional referendum, they don’t just sit back and hope people will vote the way they want. They put their time, political credibility and campaign money into the effort, just like they would for their own election campaigns.

Yet with less than a month before voters decide whether to let gubernatorial candidates pick their own running mates, rather than having the governor-in-waiting self-selected, Gov. Nikki Haley has shown no signs of gearing up a “Vote Yes” campaign.

And the governor isn’t the only supporter sitting on the couch. The state Chamber of Commerce isn’t campaigning for the change. Nor is the Club for Growth, or the S.C. Policy Council or other big-money groups that pushed for years for the Legislature to put the measure on the ballot.

That’s a problem because this isn’t something that most people spend a lot of time thinking about. While there are excellent reasons to make the change, they aren’t always intuitive; the automatic reaction from people who haven’t given it much thought is to resent having their right to vote taken away. Spend just a little time explaining the reason for the change — since the only reason we have a lieutenant governor is to have someone ready to carry on the governor’s policies if something happens to her, it only makes sense for the governor to pick that person — and most sensible folks agree.

We need that explanation to be made, and it needs to be made to more than just the people who read newspaper editorials.

We don’t mean to imply that the burden is Gov. Haley’s alone. Indeed, even beyond those interest groups that say they support the change, every legislator who supports it ought to be campaigning for it — particularly those who have no or token opposition. It wouldn’t hurt them to spend some money on the effort too.

But the governor has the bulliest pulpit in the state, she has a healthy campaign war chest, and she apparently has time to campaign: She’s planning to go after incumbents who haven’t supported her agenda. Among the targets: Those who refused to abolish the Budget and Control Board and give most of its duties to a new Department of Administration controlled by the governor. Like letting the governor pick the lieutenant governor, that would inject a little efficiency into the government and give governors just a little bit of the kind of control over the executive branch that the rest of the nation’s governors take for granted.

Yes, it’s an outrage that the Legislature adjourned this year without passing the Department of Administration bill. But lawmakers will return to that issue in January, and there’s good reason to believe that this time they’ll get it past the finish line. The same is not true of the lieutenant governor change. If the voters reject that — which seems highly unlikely if they understand the reasons for it — they won’t get another chance.

Gov. Haley doesn’t have a lot of reform accomplishments to her credit; the joint ticket would be a huge one. It isn’t quite a bird in the hand, but it’s close. The governor needs to make sure it doesn’t get away from her — and from us. She has the next two years to work on the ones hiding in the bushes.