The South Carolina Governance Project

Center for Governmental Services, Institute for Public Service and Policy Research, The University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina 29208

The Governor: Powers, Practices, Roles

and the South Carolina Experience

By Luther F. Carter and Richard D. Young



The office of governor in South Carolina has a relatively long history by American standards. Even before John Rutledge was sworn in as the first governor of a free and independent state in the newly formed United States, 36 men had previously served as governors during the 106-year period under English rule.

Historically, the office has attracted capable and competent leaders despite being regarded as relatively powerless and subordinate to the state’s legislature. Robert McNair (1965-1971) saw the state through a turbulent period of school desegregation and civil unrest in the late 1960s while leading major initiatives in education reform and industrial recruitment. John West (1971-1975) worked ardently to stabilize race relations, accelerate international development, and expand medical education. James Edwards (1975-1979), the first Republican governor in a century, overhauled the state’s social services system and created a modern management structure for the State Budget and Control Board.

Real change and progress in the Office of Governor did not occur, however, until Richard Riley (1979-87) took office and has continued over the past two decades. These changes have strengthened gubernatorial authority and the office’s capacity for shaping public opinion. Constitutional and statutory initiatives adopted by the legislature during Carroll Campbell’s (1987-1995) administration have modernized the state’s bureaucracy and improved accountability. This chapter describes the impetus for these changes and discusses several topics important to understanding the roles and responsibilities of South Carolina’s governor.

The Governor in South Carolina History

In the late 1660s King Charles II gave large tracts of land in South Carolina to a group of wealthy investors known as the Carolina proprietors and granted them "extraordinary powers."

These powers included, for example, the power to " make war and peace, create towns and ports, grant titles of honor, raise and maintain and army, collect taxes and custom duties, and impose the death sentence…" (Edgar, 1998, p. 39). In 1670 the proprietors appointed William Sayle (1670-71)as the first governor of pre-Revolutionary South Carolina and commissioned him to make a settlement at Albemarle point or what is known today as Charles Town Landing. They set up a ten-member council to advise the governor and consent to the governor’s actions. When the council and the governor met to decide matters in dispute or consult on executive orders, the council was designated the Grand Council. The proprietors appointed a lower legislative body comprised of twenty influential merchants or property owners in the colony to ratify the legislative proposals introduced by the council. This body was known as the Commons House of Assembly. This proprietary government remained in place for 28 years until it was overthrown in 1719.

In 1719, King George I established a royal colony in South Carolina. He appointed a new governor and set up a new colonial legislature to administer the colony’s affairs. The upper house of the legislature was designated His Majesty’s Council and comprised 12 persons who were appointed by the king and served unlimited terms. The council worked directly with the royal governor and served as the highest judicial court. The colonists elected the members of the Commons House of Assembly, the lower legislative house. The two houses combined were known as parliament. The parliament and the royal governor together constituted what was known then as the General Assembly.


Figure 1

Early South Carolina Governors

Selected Governors 1792 - 1860

William Moultrie (1792-1794) was the famous commander of a fort on Sullivan’s Island during the Revolutionary War. Thomas Pickney (1787-1789) completed his term as governor and then was appointed by President Washington to serve as U. S. Minister to England in 1792. Pickney later served in the War of 1812. John Drayton succeeded Edward Rutledge(1798-1800) as governor following Rutledge’s death in 1800. Draytonserved two terms as governor (1800-1802, 1808-1810) and helped in establishing the University of South Carolina (South Carolina College) and assisted in bringing about judicial reform. During Henry Middleton’s administration (1810-1812) the public school system was created. James Hamilton (1830-1832) was a close personal friend of Andrew Jackson, but refused offers from Jackson to be U. S Secretary of War and U. S. Minister to Mexico. James Hammond (1842-1844) was elected governor as a States Rights Democrat. Hammond defended the use of slavery and, in 1853, circulated a publication entitled "The Pro-Slavery Argument." Francis Pickens (1860-1862) was also a member of the States Rights Democrats. As governor, Pickens issued the order to fire on Fort Sumter, which precipitated the beginning of the Civil War.

Source: Rutledge to Riley: Governors of South Carolina, 1776-present (1985). Greenville: The Greenville-News Piedmont Company, pp. 3-20.


In May of 1775, South Carolina joined the war against England and adopted its first Constitution. The Constitution of 1776 established a legislative branch consisting of the General Assembly and the legislative council. The governor (called the "president" initially) was chosen by the legislature. This method of gubernatorial selection lasted until 1865.

In 1790, a new Constitution was approved establishing the legislature, which consisted of two houses: the Senate and the House of Representatives. In keeping with early distrust of executive authority, gubernatorial power was restricted severely in the Constitutions of 1776 and 1790. Foremost among these restrictions, the governor was denied the power of veto, and his term of office was limited to two years. The General Assembly was granted expansive powers including, for example, the authority to elect or appoint judges and all other positions of executive authority at the state level. From 1776 through 1860, 42 different governors were in charge of the state’s government.

The Constitutions of 1865 and 1868

At the end of the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson appointed Benjamin Perry (1865) as provisional governor of South Carolina. Like other states in the former Confederacy, South Carolina was ordered to amend its constitution to abolish slavery and enfranchise former slaves. The South Carolina Constitution of 1865, however, continued to limit the right to vote to white males. Representation in the House of Representatives was apportioned upon the population of white males and the amount of taxes paid.

In 1866 Congress abolished the governor’s office, the legislature and the remainder of state government because the state failed to adopt the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In 1867, the United States Army conducted elections for a state constitutional convention that was to meet and write a new constitution in 1868. One hundred and twenty-four persons were elected to the convention, 76 blacks and 48 whites. Congress stipulated that the new state constitution was to protect civil liberties and establish a more equitable basis for apportionment and taxation, regardless of race or wealth.

The result was the South Carolina Constitution of 1868, which gave all 21-year old, male citizens the right to vote, including blacks. It apportioned the House of Representatives on the basis of population without regard to wealth or property. The Governor’s Office was established as a separate and distinct branch of government, and the governor was to be elected by popular vote and permitted the power of veto. The governor was empowered further to command the state militia, initiate proposals to the General Assembly, grant reprieves and pardons, and commission state officers (Graham and Aiesi, 1984, p.104). These and other federally directed changes to the state Constitution, marked an era of increasing racism and anger among some white South Carolinians.

The Constitution of 1895

The 1890s were a period of hardship for South Carolina. The Civil War had destroyed the economic structure of the South. Politicians, such as Benjamin "Pitchfork" Tillman, were cashing in on the widespread despair and anger of poor farmers. In 1890 Tillman campaigned for the office of governor and appealed to disgruntled farmers to organize in order to win their votes. Tillman won the election, and a "white supremacist" movement began that effectively lobbied for a constitutional amendment to prohibit blacks from voting.

In his inaugural address, the newly elected governor did not disappoint the thousands that thronged Columbia for the festivities. "The whites," he thundered, "have absolute control of the State government, and we intend any and all hazards to retain it." He interpreted his win as a "triumph of democracy and white supremacy over mongolism and anarchy, civilization over barbarism" (Edgar, 1998, p. 438).

The South Carolina Constitution of 1895 made both literacy tests and poll taxes conditions for voting. Since most blacks were poor and uneducated, they were denied participation in the electoral process. Separate schools for blacks and the prohibition on interracial marriage were reaffirmed. The state’s General Assembly reverted to an all white institution during this period and remained so until the 1960s.

A significant change did occur, however, with the passage of the Constitution of 1895. For the first time, a clear distinction was made between the legislative and the executive branches of government, and a system of traditional checks and balances was created. The provision for popular election was retained, and the governor was given a budget line-item veto, rare among the Southern states (Bowler and Petrusak, 1983, p. 40).

Specific responsibility and authority within the executive branch remained poorly defined, however. The confusion over executive authority and responsibility as shared among the nine popularly elected "constitutional officers" (the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, secretary of state, comptroller general, attorney general, superintendent of education, adjutant general, and commissioner of agriculture) is more than simply a historic concern. This problem remains a source of executive fragmentation.

The Modern Gubernatorial Period

The first half of the twentieth century produced little change in gubernatorial authority or the state’s administrative organization. This absence of change is especially noteworthy because of the transformation occurring in the federal government and among the other states. From 1910 to 1925, the budget movement reform rapidly spread to statehouses across the country.

There were numerous reasons for this phenomenon, including the need for more centralized budget planning, the importance of aligning management and allocation decisions more closely, and a concern for strengthening the chief executive’s control over governmental spending.

In South Carolina, the legislature’s influence over the budget process was deeply rooted, national trends to the contrary.

The South Carolina General Assembly, while recognizing the virtues of consolidating the budget proposal process, was not willing to escalate the governor’s profile as an agent for affecting budgetary or policy recommendations. The 1919 compromise provided for the creation of a Budget Commission with a membership of three: the governor, who served as chairman, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Ostensibly, this measure provided a deliberative forum for the three primary budget actors in the state to discuss and propose fiscal policy. Practically, it ensured that the two legislative members would always control the process (Carter, 1996, p. 186).

Over the next three decades, the power of the Budget Commission expanded to include post-appropriation controls and budgetary recommendations. By the 1940s, the Commission was exercising much of the fiscal authority that governors in other states exercised unilaterally.

In 1950, the State Reorganization Commission proposed a major restructuring of the commission, adding two new popularly elected officials: the state treasurer and the comptroller general. Both of these officials had constitutionally delineated fiscal responsibilities and were natural additions to a budget board. Eight state agencies were consolidated under this five-member panel, all of which exercised general administrative responsibilities. This new organization was approved by the legislature the same year and renamed the State Budget and Control Board.

This change diminished rather than enhanced the governor’s influence. Now the governor was one of five board members, and his two executive colleagues were essentially autonomous from gubernatorial control. These seats enhanced their prestige and permitted them to exercise authority in areas far removed from their traditional responsibilities. As South Carolina moved into the final quarter of the twentieth century, however, a climatic change was about to occur in state government. By the end of the century, governors would be more powerful and held to far more exacting standards of accountability.

The Contemporary Governor

One of the more frequent debates about the influence of the chief executive focuses on the relationship between the office that is held and its occupant. Specifically, does the person transform the position, or does the position define the capability and limitations of the incumbent? The diverse leadership styles and personalities of the governors who have held the office of governor in South Carolina over the past thirty years have strengthened the nature of the office permanently.

Richard Riley (1979-87), a progressive reformer with a strong commitment to improving the state’s educational system, successfully sought passage of a 1980 constitutional amendment that permitted a second four-year term for governors. In 1982, Governor Riley was reelected and became the first governor in South Carolina history to serve eight years. This victory had enormous implications for strengthening the governor’s role in public policy-making. No longer was he simply a "personality" occupying office, now he was governor for eight years, a period long enough to propose and implement programs. Tenure across two terms was sufficient to give a governor control over all of the appointments to which he was entitled, even those involving fixed, staggered terms (Carter, 1996, pp.190-192). The campaign for reelection could be used to secure an electoral mandate for a political agenda.

Carroll Campbell (1987-95), an upcountry Republican, also won election to two terms. In his first term, Campbell carefully but consistently pursued opportunities to promote gubernatorial power and prestige. In 1988 he moved to establish more owner-ship over the budget process. He sent his own executive budget to the Budget and Control Board and the legislature even though he lacked statutory authority to develop the state’s budget. He continued this process for each of the following years. Finally in 1993, the budgetary statutes were revised to allow the governor to solicit agency requests and submit an executive budget, annotating his priorities (Carter, 1996, p. 191).

On September 21, 1989, nature intervened to broaden Campbell’s power even more substantially. That evening Hurricane Hugo crashed into the South Carolina coast and cut across the state. In its aftermath, 24 of the state’s 46 counties were declared disaster areas. The damages were estimated to exceed $7 billion. The Governor’s Office became the focal point of response and recovery. The role of Governor Campbell and his staff in coordinating state, federal and private assistance efforts permanently established the governor as the state’s crisis manager.

Campbell’s final legacy involved the restructuring of state government. Working with the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, he succeeded in reorganizing the state bureaucracy in 1993. One hundred and forty-five agencies were consolidated; thirteen of these reported directly to the governor. These latter agencies formed the nucleus of a cabinet govern-ment. For the first time in South Carolina history, the governor exercised direct control over a number of state agencies, and he could appoint and remove their leadership.

Campbell’s successor, David Beasley (1995-1999), came into office building upon many of the policies of his predecessor. He took on the challenges of managing cabinet government.

Very early in his term, he formed his cabinet agencies into policy groups in order to manage the flow of legislation and programs. This resulted in more deliberate policy making with realistic expectations, at least within the executive branch.

The challenges and opportunities confronting the state under these governors underscore the nature of the changing executive. Gubernatorial tenure, expanded budgetary responsibilities, and the emergence of the cabinet form of government are evidence of a strengthening of authority. Increasingly, the complexities of modern government require those skills that are commonly attributed to a centralized executive: organizing, managing, planning, and evaluating. South Carolina’s bureaucracy was "coming of age."

Powers of the Governor

How effective a governor is in shaping public policy and managing state government is based principally on two factors: the formal powers of the governor and those informal powers used in carrying out other duties associated with being governor. Formal powers are those powers authorized by state statutes and the constitution. Examples include the governor’s tenure, bud-get-making power, veto, and appointment powers. Informal powers are those individual or personal attributes that the governor possesses and exercises in the course of his or her duties. These include the governor’s ability to communicate with legislators, the media, and the public, as well as the administrative style and ability of the governor.

Figure 2

Assessment of the Formal Powers

of the Governor of South Carolina


Name of  Power Brief Description Assessment
Tenure Potential

Term of office is four years.  One reelection is permitted.

Appointive Powers Governors who appoint many agency heads in their states are strong. If many officers are elected the governor is weak.  South Carolina elects ten other statewide officers. Though the governor appoints 13 cabinet members, the governor appoints few alone. Weak
Budget Making Power South Carolina’s governor has full responsibility; legislature has unlimited power to change executive budget. (Note: Beyle assesses this power as "weak.")


Veto Power South Carolina’s governor has an item veto on money bills and a general veto. Since the legislative is limited to override by a 2/3 vote rather than a simple majority, these formal powers have some strength. Moderate
Source: Graham & Aiesi (1984). In Luther F. Carter and David Mann (Ed.), Government in the Palmetto State, p. 106. South Carolina’s governor has a "moderate" amount of formal powers. With changes to the constitution and statutes over the past 20 years, the governor has gained greater tenure power, appointment power (primarily 13 cabinet appointees), and budget making power. Still weaknesses are to be found. By way of illustration, Governor James Hodges (1999-present) shares power with eight statewide constitutional officers. These elected officials include the lieutenant governor, adjutant general, attorney general, commissioner of agriculture, comptroller general, secretary of state, state treasurer, and superintendent of education. Each of these executive officers serves an unlimited number of terms, while the governor is limited to two consecutive terms. This can be an enormous source of "amassed and sustainable" power.

South Carolina’s governor is weakened further because he shares a wide range of state fiscal and administrative functions with the State Budget and Control Board. With its fourteen organizational units, the Board provides the central management functions for most state agencies. These responsibilities include coordinating the purchase of goods and services, property management, insurance reserve and benefits, human resource management, audit functions, budget and financial management, and retirement systems for the state.

Tenure. Historically, a governor’s tenure was a short-lived experience. In 10 of the 13 original states the governor’s term was one year. Slowly, with executive reform and reorganization efforts in the twentieth century, terms were expanded to four years. Most states permit governors to serve only for two terms. The longer a governor is permitted by law to serve, the more time he or she has to exert influence on public policy. As such, tenure potential is an important indicator of gubernatorial strength (See Richard Riley in "The Contemporary Governor" for a discussion of gubernatorial tenure.)

 Figure 3

State Appointing Authority for Agency

Governing Bodies in South Carolina

Appointed by the Governor Agencies/Boards/Commissions
Governor appoints board; Board employs executive director. 12
Governor appoints board with legislative approval and names executive director for agency. 21
Governor appoints agency director with Senate approval (cabinet agencies). 11
Governor appoints board chairman; legislators appoint six board members.  Board hires executive director for agency. 1
Governor hires directors for fixed terms and cannot remove them without cause (cabinet agencies). 2
Subtotal 47
Appointed by the Legislature only. 21
Total 68
Sources: State Reorganization Commission (June 1997). Young (1999, p. 59).

Appointment power. State governments provide services and programs to citizens through an array of agencies, departments, offices, and other entities. These entities are managed and overseen by agency or department heads. In many cases, these agency heads or directors or appointed by boards and commissions. The boards and commissions are, in turn, appointed by several methods, which may or may not include the governor’s participation. The governor may share appointment authority with the legislature or legislative approval may be required for gubernatorial candidates.

The appointment powers of South Carolina’s governor are universally considered weak (Beyle, 1999, p. 212; Dye, 2000, p.212; Gray and Eisinger, 1997, p. 161). The governor makes appointments to 68 state boards and commissions (Young, 1999,p. 59). Of these, only 12 are direct appointments. As Figure 3 shows, twenty-one agency governing bodies are appointed exclusively by the legislature and have no gubernatorial input with the exception of the governor’s ex-officio positions. It should be noted that after the 1993 state government restructuring, the governor was permitted to appoint 13 agency or cabinet heads.1

Veto power. Veto power allows the governor to accept or reject a bill that is passed by a state legislature and gives the governor direct input into the legislative process. General vetoes by a governor are permitted once the legislature has completed its deliberations and both legislative houses have approved the bill. Once legislative approval occurs, the governor has a designated period of time to veto (disapprove) or sign (approve) the bill. This time can vary from a relatively short period of three to seven days, to a longer period ranging from 15 to 45 days (Way, 1974, p. 20). A governor may choose to take no action on a bill; in this case, a bill automatically would become law. If a governor vetoes a bill, the bill is returned to the state legislature where it is either overridden or sustained. If the bill is overridden by a supermajority vote, it becomes law. If the bill fails to receive sufficient votes by the legislature, it dies and fails to become law. Thirty-eight states require two-thirds vote of each legislative house voting separately to override a general veto; five states require three-fifths vote; and six states need only a majority vote.

Besides the general veto, most states allow their governors the line-item veto. The line- item veto applies specifically to appropriation or spending bills and empowers the governor to delete appropriated items. The governor may also veto narrative or instructional information contained in an appropriations bill.2 The advantage of the line-item veto is that a governor can veto specific appropriations without being forced to accept or reject an entire appropriations bill.

A governor’s use of the line-item veto changes the dynamic between the governor and the legislature because it conveys a strong message to the legislature that certain appropriations will not be tolerated, particularly "pork barrel" projects (Moe, 1988, pp.1-2). It may increase the tension or friction between the legislative and executive branches or cause a state’s legislature to enact laws or put into place rules to negate the effect of the veto. Finally, a governor’s use of the line-item veto may lead to the initiation of a lawsuit. In South Carolina, for example, the General Assembly challenged Governor Beasley’s line-item veto of certain narrative provisions in the 1997-1998 state appropriations bill. The governor had "selectively" deleted certain words and phrases instead of vetoing distinctly labeled sections of the bill. The S. C. Supreme Court ruled that this selective practice was illegal (Drummond v. Beasley, 1998).

South Carolina’s governor has both general and line-item veto power. According to the state constitution every bill or joint resolution, with the exception of those pertaining to the subject of adjournment, must be presented to the governor for his signature, approval, or his veto. If the governor vetoes the bill, the bill is then returned to the General Assembly with a message stating his objections. The governor has five days during the session to do this, not counting Sundays, or the bill automatically becomes law without his signature. Additionally, should the General Assembly adjourn sine die (final end of a regular or special session) and thus prevent the return of the governor’s action on a bill during this five-day period, then a vetoed bill is considered by the legislature upon its next meeting. In this situation the governor has until the legislature reconvenes to veto the bill. Once the legislature receives a vetoed bill from the governor, it then must vote two-thirds in each house to override it; otherwise, the veto is sustained (S. C. Constitution, Article IV, Section 21).

In terms of the line-item veto, the governor of South Carolina has the power to delete specific appropriated items. The governor is authorized to veto "distinct items and sections" that are in proviso or narrative, written form (S. C. Constitution, Article IV, Section 21). Over the past 22 years, the line item veto has been used "sporadically." No vetoes were recorded for the following years: 1980, 1983, 1992, 1994, 1998 and 1999, but as many as 123 line-item vetoes were recorded in 1986 for Governor Riley. Governor Campbell used 277 line-item vetoes in 1987, while Governor Beasley used 113 in 1996.

Budget-making power. Simply put, with executive budget authority, a governor proposes a budget that includes state revenues and expenditures. This gives the governor a significant tool to shape policy initiatives and programs for the state. It also aids the governor in controlling state agency and departmental spending (Gray and Eisinger, 1997, p. 162). But, the governor's budgetary submission is simply a proposal. The legislature must adopt an appropriation bill, which can be considerably different from the governor’s budget. Thus, a governor must be prepared to lobby or negotiate with the legislature to achieve his or her fiscal recommendations.

Until 1994-95, in South Carolina, initial budget recommendations to the legislature were prepared and submitted by the Budget and Control Board (See Carroll Campbell in "The Contemporary Governor"). Now the governor submits an executive budget to the General Assembly within five days after the beginning of each legislative session. With assistance from the State Budget Office, the governor begins the budget process by sending a letter or statement to all state agencies requesting information and data on any "new" monies they may require for the upcoming fiscal year. This request usually occurs in September. The agencies complete the budget request form and indicate any increase above their base appropriation. An agency’s request for additional funds may be for existing-level program maintenance, expansion of existing programs, or new program initiatives. A budget increase request may be for one-time or multi-year capital expenses, or for some special or temporary project need. Once the governor’s staff has received the agencies’ requests, they review them to determine whether they should be included in the governor’s budget recommendation.

While the governor considers all agency budget requests carefully, the governor must also consider whether increased revenues will be available for spending. Each November the Board of Economic Advisors estimates and certifies the expected revenue growth for the forthcoming fiscal year. The governor, like the legislature, recommends a balanced budget.

Once the governor has prepared budget recommendations, they are submitted to the House of Representatives in bill form. Accompanying the governor’s executive budget is the governor’s budget message, a "detailed" summary of the governor’s funding priorities and an agency-by-agency synopsis of new funding levels.

Party congruence. A governor’s strength or weakness may be determined by whether the governor and the legislature belong to the same political party? If so, common sense and experience indicates that better communication and cooperation will occur. If the governor and legislature are of differing parties, then the opposite is more likely to occur and gubernatorial-legislative interchange may suffer (Beyle, 1999, p. 210).

So-called power-splits are common now. In 1998, more than 31 states had some form of party majority difference between governors and their legislatures. This figure has nearly doubled since 1984 (Beyle, 1999, p. 216). Currently, South Carolina’s governor does not have a party majority in the House of Representatives and had only a narrow lead in party control of the Senate between 1998 and 2000 (25 Democrats and 21 Republicans). The 2000 general election divided the Senate evenly between the two parties.

Informal Powers of the Governor

Governors who are highly successful are given a wide range of formal powers in their state’s constitutions. They also use their personal attributes and managerial skills to govern and develop policies in the public’s interest. Even those governors who have weak formal powers, however, can be successful if they have a strong electoral mandate and the ability to work with people. Below we discuss two forms of informal powers that are used to determine a governor’s overall effectiveness.

Electoral mandate. Electoral mandates are one form of informal power. They are a source of energy and influence for newly elected officials and are generally clear and certain. If a governor is elected by a wide margin of votes, this is a good indicator that a significant majority of the public looks favorably on some key aspect of his or her campaign platform, position or views. This electoral margin of victory sends the message: "We voted for you because you stood for this… and/or promised to do such and such."

A governor is expected to act upon changes associated with an electoral mandate. If he or she succeeds, it improves the governor’s chance of getting reelected. Failure to achieve an electoral mandate can diminish a governor’s personal power and chance for reelection. To illustrate, South Carolina Governor David Beasley attempted to broaden his office’s influence over public opinion by taking leadership positions on controversial issues that clashed with the majority of the state’s citizenry. He sparred continually with the legislative leadership during the four years he served. He advocated the removal of the confederate flag flying over the Capitol and challenged the legality of video poker operations throughout South Carolina. In 1998 Democrat James Hodges, a former state legislator, challenged Beasley campaigning on two primary issues: education and a state lottery. The contest for governor between incumbent David Beasley and opponent James Hodges was close. Hodges won by a voter margin of only 6.6 percent.

Political popularity of governor. Another measure of informal power relates to whether a governor is given an opportunity to win an additional term of office. A governor who is not reelected and is near the end of his or her final term of office is referred to as a lame duck governor. Lame duck governors are perceived to have limited power because the public and the legislature have begun shifting their interest to the next governor’s administration.

…In the summer of 1994, Governor Edwin Edwards announced his exit from Louisiana’s politics a year and a half before his fourth term would end. According to one observer, based on a 1994 summary, he [Edwards] then found an immediate change in the political environment around him as the decision "left him a lame duck and largely ineffective in the legislature with no political clout to speak of and no money with which to reward loyal legislators with projects and patronage" (Beyle, 1999, p. 206).

Currently Virginia is the only state that does not allow its governor a successive term. Thus, most governors run again if reelection is permitted.

Roles and Responsibilities of the Governor

The roles and responsibilities of a governor are derived from statute, constitutional provisions, and practice or tradition. These include those related to the administration of state government, legislative policy development and communications, crisis management, public interrelations, political party leadership, and state-federal relations.

Here is a summary of the qualifications for the position of governor in South Carolina and a brief review of the major roles and responsibilities of the office.

Article IV of the South Carolina Constitution sets forth only three legal requirements for governor. They are (1) belief in the existence of a Supreme Being which is not enforceable, (2) a minimum of 30 years of age, and (3) residency if the United States and of the state for at least five years preceding date of election. Over the past three decades successful candidates for the position were members of the General Assembly regarded as figures of prominence within their political parties, and were successful in raising campaign contributions.

Although South Carolina is a small state with a population of 3.6 million people, a competitive gubernatorial campaign can run from 12 to 18 months and cost between $5 to $7 million dollars. The state electorate has not been responsive to independent candidates or to those candidates whose campaigns were poorly financed. Voting patterns often coalesce around the three major geopolitical areas of the state (the Upcountry, the Midlands, and the Lowcountry). Candidates must have resources to campaign in these three, distinct media markets and generate messages with equal appeal to rural and urban audiences. Thus, successful gubernatorial campaigns have become high cost, sophisticated operations dependent upon salient issues and a well-organized network of supporters.

Organizing and Leading the Administrative State

The first role assumed by the newly elected governor is that of organizing his administration, establishing his executive priorities, and administering the executive branch. Decisions must be made on the appointment of senior policy and administrative staff, managerial positions in the Governor’s Office of Executive Policy and Programs, and on the appointment of cabinet directors and deputy directors. The governor appoints approximately 1,500 people to state boards and commissions during the first term. The administration’s future success is dependent upon the quality of its appointments. Thus, the ability to create a viable and thorough process to screen prospective appointees is the first severe test of the new administration.

Within three weeks of assuming office the governor has three occasions to highlight his executive priorities: the inaugural address, the first state-of-the state address, and the budget request sent to the legislature. The inauguration speech, delivered once each term, is usually the "vision" speech. It outlines the problems that the administration seeks to remedy, but rarely does it articulate prescriptive programs or policies. The latter is outlined in the state-of-the-state speech, which the governor delivers to the General Assembly each January at the beginning of the legislative session. This address, coupled with the budget request specifying the governor’s spending priorities for the coming year, constitutes his public agenda for directing the executive branch.

Day-to-day management of state government requires capabilities beyond those of public speaking and budgeting. Figure 8 depicts the current organization of the state’s government. The primary difference between this organization and that of other states is that the legislature continues to exercise some level of direct executive control.

Developing a Legislative Agenda

Probably the best example of a successful legislative strategy in contemporary times is the passage of the Education Improvement Act of 1984. Enacted during Governor Riley’s second term of office, the Act provides a dedicated source of funding for the improvement of educational programs in elementary and secondary schools. Riley and his staff cultivated an aggressive group of legislators who were willing to advocate for educational reform and assist them in lobbying other legislators to support the EIA’s passage (See Kearney, 1987, p. 154).

Of course there is no ideal model for achieving successful passage of legislation; any number of factors outside of the governor’s control can affect the outcome of a governor’s legislative agenda. These include whether the governor’s party controls either one or both legislative houses, whether a public interest coalition can be established effectively, and how well the governor gets along with the legislative leadership.

A governor’s legislative role extends beyond championing a legislative agenda, however, he also must be attentive to bills that may be injurious to administrative policy. Thousands of bills, filed annually, must be read, scrutinized and occasionally opposed. Rarely is such an effort promoted publicly. A governor is expected to establish policy leadership by promoting his own legislative agenda rather than by killing other legislative initiatives. Consequently, legislative allies who will honor the governor’s confidence must handle defeat of undesirable bills circumspectly.

Managing Crises

Of all the categories of powers afforded the governor by statute, the most sweeping involve crisis management.3 Historically, the legislature has given the governor the authority to manage disasters. In South Carolina the governor is granted seven emergency powers to deal with a crisis or catastrophe in order "to maintain peace, tranquility, and good order." These powers range from declaring a state of emergency to calling out the National Guard and ordering evacuations in cases of natural disasters.4

Governor Campbell’s emergency proclamation in the after-math of Hurricane Hugo remains the most notable disaster declaration in recent South Carolina history. In the response and recovery process, Campbell used every emergency power granted to him and employed all of his persuasive skills. As a result, the state functioned as a well-coordinated and cohesive organization.

Even the most ardent opponents of increasing gubernatorial authority grudgingly concede the necessity for these emergency powers, and the reason is obvious: the governor is the only elected official in the state with an explicit electoral mandate to function unilaterally.

Coalescing Public Opinion

Whether addressing a conference of state employees, dedicating a new school, or writing an op-ed article for one of the state’s newspapers, the governor’s most effective role may be as the state’s spokesperson. In this regard, he has enormous potential to influence public opinion and sway the debate on public issues. Scheduled press conferences are always well attended, and governors are rarely denied media time or cover-age.

All contemporary governors have a press operation. Usually this consists of a communications director or press secretary, a speechwriter, a photographer and technicians who handle the media feeds and other technicalities associated with getting the governor’s message out to radio and television.

This public persona of the governor, most commonly reflected in hundreds of public appearances and dozens of speeches each year, is what elevates the governor above other elected positions in the state. When the governor speaks, he speaks for South Carolina. The struggle for power with the legislature, the fragmentation of executive authority among the constitutional officers, and the lack of control over agencies are of far less consequence when the governor takes his message directly to his primary constituency, the 3.6 million residents of South Carolina. This is a uniquely executive prerogative.

Political Leader

Just as a governor is recognized to be the state’s chief administrator, chief legislator, chief crisis manager, and chief negotiator, a governor is also, by virtue of the office itself, "chief of his or her political party" (Gray and Eisinger, 1997, p. 168). What does this mean? First, the perception that governors are simply mirrors of their political party’s ideology is largely untrue. Most governors believe they are independent thinkers, and that they are more interested in "doing the right thing" than following party platforms or ideas. This does not mean that governors believe themselves to be "nonpolitical" in their decision making and actions. Rather, governors point out that their official duties and responsibilities call for decisions or judgements that are typically beyond political philosophies. For the most part, governors feel they must be "pragmatic" in their choices and actions and must look at what is best for all citizenry, not just Democrats or Republicans.

Second, most governors reject the party platform as a basis for gubernatorial policy and are hesitant to indicate what, if any, influence party bosses and consultants have on policy decisions. Political parties and their ideologies play "at best" a marginal role in most governors’ decisions (Muchmore and Beyle, 1980, p. 122).

What then is the significance of the role of the governor as party leader? The significance is that

1. A governor is recognized as the chief fund raiser for the party (Muchmore and Beyle, 1980, pp. 121-125; Graham and Aiesi, 1984, p. 108; Gray and Eisinger, 1997, p. 168). As political leaders, governors spend a large amount of time raising money for their parties, individual members of their parties who are running for office, and for their own reelection campaigns. This translates into labor intensive activities because elections cost considerably more than they once did. Advertisements, opinion polls, consultants, mailings, travel and telephone banks are expensive, yet necessary to win an election.

2. A governor has an opportunity to fill positions with party loyalists and supporters. Patronage extends to those who actively campaigned for the governor and other party supporters and contributors. A governor wields considerable political power as an employer because he can appoint party loyalists to his staff or other jobs in the administration, including cabinet level appointments and appointments to state boards and commissions.

3. A governor represents the state in national party affairs. National political party organizations are influenced heavily by governors. Governors participate in the preparation or construction of national political platforms. They are the states’ spokespersons for issues that extend beyond state boundaries and contribute to the national party’s agenda. They are relied upon to accommodate and campaign for presidential and vice presidential candidates and are active in hosting national political conventions and other political events.

4. A governor can reward legislators who are of the same party and who support the governor’s policies. A governor who is cognizant of the political tension and partisan battles of the state’s legislature can usually count on the support of legislators from his or her own party if he or she has been actively supportive of legislative campaigns and attentive to the major party issues.

5. A governor, if he or she is of the same party as the majority of a state’s congressional delegation or the President, can be effective in federal relations. Communication and cooperation is key to state-federal relations and governors who have party connections with elected officials in Washington can be effective. This is especially true in acquiring federal funds. The president, for example, has wide discretion and enormous financial resources at his disposal. Under the right circumstances and with some political prodding, this money can be directed to state and local governments. Likewise, Congressmen can be instrumental in targeting money to their states through the appropriations process. These legislators also can negotiate or run interference with federal agencies when necessary.

6. A governor may seek reelection or, at some point, election to higher office. If a governor wants to run for reelection, he must be on good terms with the party. Most governors work diligently to cultivate this aspect of their constitutency base (Gray and Eisinger, 1997, p. 168).

Intergovernmental Relations

As their state’s chief executive, governors represent states needs to the president, Congress, and a host of federal agencies. They do this to acquire federal funding, assure compliance with the federal government’s rules and regulations, and in response to natural disasters by working with agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The federal government relies upon state governments to administer federal programs resulting in a need for cooperation and coordination.

On the average, 20 percent of a state’s budget dollars comes from federal funds (Gray and Eisinger, 1997, p.172). In South Carolina, the amount of federal money flowing into the state is approximately 33 percent or roughly $4 billion dollars. Thus, federal spending at the state level is carefully monitored.

This emphasis on state-federal relations escalated in the 1960s when the Johnson administration initiated its national social, health and welfare programs. With the increase in federal programs and aid to the states, governors became inevitably more attentive and involved in state-federal interchange. In a sense, they were forced to assume more responsibility for planning, organizing, and administering federal program requirements and directives.

In 1978 a shift toward devolution for some federal programs forced the states to shift their focus and methods. Now governors had to contend with reductions in federal aid and unfunded mandates. In many cases, they were left to their own devices; instead of the federal government giving instructions and providing funds, they now identify funding sources or appreciably reduce services (Beyle, 1999, p. 223).

Today’s governors use several strategies in their intergovernmental roles. One is the establishment of permanent offices in Washington, D.C. The state’s Washington office is currently staffed with one full-time professional employee whose main job is to lobby for the state’s interests. These employees work with federal agencies on a regular basis keeping up with grants and regulations (Gray and Eisinger, 1997, p. 172). The closer proximity permits better day-to-day personal contact with Congress and federal agencies while protecting the state’s interest (Beyle, 1999, p. 223).

Another strategy is participation in the National Governors’Association (NGA). All governors are members of the association, which is located in the Hall of States near the Capitol. It has a staff of over 100 persons and sponsors a number of activities. Its principal activity is to lobby Congress on behalf of the states. Other activities include conducting special studies, establishing a "best practices" center, providing data and re-search services, offering internships, and holding annual and special issue-oriented meetings. South Carolina’s governor currently chairs the Legal Affairs Committee and the Committee on Human Resources (NGA, 2000:

In sum, administering the affairs of state government, working with the legislature, dealing with crises, providing political party leadership, organizing public opinion, and man-aging intergovernmental relations are important responsibilities that define the role of governor today.


The governor and the executive branch have undergone far more lasting change over the past three decades than at any time in the state’s history. But as is often the case with progress, the focus must shift from appraising what has been accomplished to what remains to be accomplished. This is, most assuredly, the issue around which the restructuring debate will center in the coming decade. Woodrow Wilson once lamented that it was "harder to run a constitution than to frame [one]." For future governors, the task of running government will be increasingly complex and convoluted. Hopefully they will be prepared to meet this challenge. Historically, their predecessors have been.


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1 These agencies include the departments of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services; Commerce; Corrections; Health and Human Services; Insurance; Juvenile Justice; Parks, Recreation and Tourism; Revenue; Social Services; Labor, Licensing and Regulation; Probation and Parole; and SLED.

2 The permitted use of the line item veto varies from state to state (Abney and Lauth, 1996, pp. 884-889). Currently some form of the line item veto is given to 43 governors. Seven states do not allow governors the line item veto. They include Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont (Abney and Lauth, 1996, p. 884; Dye, 2000, p. 216).

3 See South Carolina Code of Laws, as amended, Sections 1-3 and 410-450.

4 Emergency powers granted to the governor include (1) the authority to declare a state of emergency; (2) the authority to prevent unlawful assemblages; (3) the authority to order any act which would "prevent or minimize danger to life, limb or property, or prevent a breach of the peace"; (4) the authority to call out and direct the military forces of the state [state militia];(5) the authority to order all law enforcement officers "to do whatever may be deemed necessary to maintain peace and good order"; (6) the authority to order evacuations; and (7) the authority to "intervene in any situation where there exists violence or threats of violence to persons or property… to prevent violence, riotous conduct, public disorder or breaches of the peace."

Luther F. Carter is president of Francis Marion University. Previously he was the executive director of the S.C. Budget and Control Board (1991-1999) and a senior aide to Governor Carroll Campbell (1987-1991). His areas of scholarly research and expertise include budgeting and finance, organization theory, and South Carolina government and politics.

Richard D. Young is a research associate in the University of South Carolina's Center for Governmental Services. He has worked with the South Carolina Senate and the State Reorganization Commission in various research positions. He also has taught at the University of Louisville, Hanover College, Indiana University Southeast, and the University of Kentucky in Louisville, KY. He is the author of A Brief Guide to State Government in South Carolina and A Guide to the General Assembly of South Carolina. Both publications are available through USC's Center for Governmental Services.