Maj. Gen. Robert Livingston, S.C.'s adjutant general, speaks with attendees during a May 9 Republican candidate forum at the Hilton Head Island Republican Club, in Hilton Head Island, S.C. (Stephen B. Morton / AP)
COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s voters get the chance to decide in November whether they want the governor to appoint the state’s adjutant general, its top military officer.
The Senate gave final voice approval Wednesday to a measure that puts the constitutional question on the fall ballot.
Under the proposed amendment, the governor would appoint the adjutant general beginning in January 2019.
An accompanying measure also approved by voice vote specifies certain qualifications that candidates for the position must have, should voters approve the referendum.
The adjutant general oversees the state’s 11,000-member Military Department, which includes the Army National Guard, Air National Guard, State Guard and the state’s Emergency Management Division.
South Carolina is the only state in the nation where voters have chosen their top military officer in a general election.
The House approved both measures last year.
House Speaker Bobby Harrell proposed the change. He has said he was aware that most citizens “were surprised to learn that candidates with absolutely no military experience would be qualified to be elected our state’s head military officer under the current system.”
Adjutant Gen. Robert Livingston, who was elected in 2010, joined Harrell in calling for the change last year.
On Wednesday, Livingston said it was wise to put it to voters.
“I am sure the voters will choose wisely,” the two-star Army National Guard general said.
Livingston faced no opposition when he ran as a Republican. He is running again for the GOP nod in the June 10 primary against James Breazeale, of Florence, an airline pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.
Under the measure approved Wednesday, the governor’s candidate must have a general’s rank and have attended a graduate-level military educational institute. The term is set for four years.
The person must also have at least 10 or more years of federally commissioned service in the South Carolina National Guard, of which at least five years must have been spent at the rank of lieutenant colonel, or higher. The bill also requires the individual to have command experience at the battalion or squadron level, or higher.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Larry Martin said the state’s top military post should be appointed, particularly given the South Carolina Guard’s repeated deployments recently in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East and elsewhere.
“We’ve been pretty well served with the election process, but you might not be so fortunate down the road. It just makes good sense,” said Martin, R-Pickens. “You want a career person who has a very good working relationship with the U.S. military leading our National Guard.”