Supporters of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin spent nearly half-a-million dollars backing a bid to transfer most of the authority held by the city manager to the elected mayor. After Benjamin was overwhelming re-elected last month, the vote had the makings of a slam dunk for the two-term mayor.
Gov. Nikki Haley even offered her support of the “strong mayor” position, partially because of the geographical implications and partially, we suspect, because of the foreshadowing effect such a “yes” vote could have had on her own plight to restructure the power allocated to the relatively toothless governor’s office.
But Columbia voters sent a different message Tuesday, defeating the measure by a sound 57 percent margin.
As a former legislator, Haley understands that South Carolina still has, despite some progress in recent years, one of the weakest state executive branches in the nation.
Our state essentially is governed by the powerful legislature. Governors oversee departmental execution, offer advice on the budget (usually ignored) and yammer away in the bully pulpit, hoping to sway voters to their point of view.
Their most significant role is as recruiter-in-chief for the state’s economic development team.
A government restructuring bill that moves many of the day-to-day operations of state government, including property and fleet management, into a Cabinet-level agency has died repeatedly over the years. Haley herself tried to force the Legislature to return in 2011 to pass such a measure, but she lost that battle in the state Supreme Court.
But after Tuesday’s vote, one has to ask: If the people don’t want it, and the Legislature sure as we’re sitting here doesn’t want it, then what chance does this form of government have in South Carolina? About nil, it would seem.
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