COLUMBIA, SC — The two candidates for the state’s adjutant general stand on opposite sides of several issues that could have practical effects in one of the country’s most military-friendly states.
James Breazeale is challenging fellow Republican and incumbent Bob Livingston to be chief administrator of the state’s 11,000-member Military Department, which includes the South Carolina Army and Air National Guards, Emergency Management Division and State Guard. The adjutant general serves a four-year term and is paid $92,000.
The two will be on the Republican primary ballot June 10. With no other candidates filed for the position, the primary election will effectively decide the winner of the November general election.
South Carolina is the only state to elect its top military officer. Breazeale would like to see it remain that way to maintain checks and balances in the system.
“On the surface, if you appoint somebody, it looks like they’re accountable,” he said. “But they’re really not, because the person that appoints them ... protects them because they don’t want to look bad for appointing them.”
Livingston, who is seeking his second term, supports a proposed constitutional amendment that would make the adjutant general a governor-appointed position beginning in January 2019. Appointing the position will ensure an adequately qualified officer as well as take the politics out of the position, he said.
Voters will decide on the amendment in the November general election.
If passed, the amendment would also set new qualifications for adjutant general candidates, including attendance at a graduate-level military educational institute and holding a general’s rank. Those qualifications would exclude a candidate like Breazeale, who holds a lieutenant colonel rank in the Army Reserve.
“The position of adjutant general is such a key position nationwide because the National Guard is the combat reserve for the nation as well as a state defense force,” Livingston said. “It is very critical that that person actually have the proper experience and the proper rank and the proper schooling.”
That kind of experience is important, he said, when it comes to understanding the issues that affect the operations of the state’s military department, including whether or not combat helicopters will remain available to Guard forces.
The Army has recommended a plan that would strip the National Guard of its Apache attack helicopters and move them to active-duty forces, replacing the Guard’s supply with fewer Blackhawk helicopters, which are commonly considered more useful for disaster relief and emergency response.
“It’s a very big issue that is being passed as something very simple,” said Livingston, who, along with all 50 governors and the Adjutants General Association of the United States, opposes the plan.
Breazeale has endorsed the Army’s plan to swap the Guard’s Apaches for Blackhawks, saying it will save taxpayer money and improve the Guard’s disaster relief and emergency response capabilities. It’s a matter of efficiency, Breazeale said.
“My personal culture is to be as cheap as possible without sacrificing safety or effectiveness,” he said.
Stripping the National Guard of its combat helicopters is a bad idea, Livingston said, because it would compromise the Guard’s ability to execute half of its mission, which is to be the nation’s combat reserve corps. The state’s National Guard is already well equipped to execute the other half of its mission, which is emergency response and disaster relief, he said.
The candidates are alike, however, in at least one respect – each has said that, if elected, he will not seek re-election after this term.
Breazeale has said a one-term limit will “ensure new ideas and avoid the lifelong politician trap” in the position. He’s even gone so far as to make a $500,000 bond pledge to charity that he would not seek re-election.
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.
SC adjutant general candidates
Lives in: Gaston
Military rank: Army major general
Civilian occupation: owner and chief executive officer of Gregory Electric Co. in Columbia
J ames Breazeale
Lives in: Florence
Military rank: lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve
Civilian occupation: commercial airline pilot for Airtran Airways
Election vs. appointment
Breazeale believes the adjutant general should remain an elected position, in the spirit of government accountability. Livingston supports an amendment that would allow the governor to appoint the position beginning in January 2019.
Apaches in the Guard
Breazeale endorses the Army’s plan to transfer Apache combat helicopters from the National Guard to active-duty forces, saying it will save money. Livingston opposes the plan, saying it will compromise the Guard’s combat readiness.
Other primary races for constitutional officer candidates
The winner will face Democratic Party candidate Bakari Sellers in November.
Curtis Loftis, incumbent
Commissioner of Agriculture
Hugh Weathers, incumbent
The winner will face American Party candidate Emile DeFelice and United Citizens Party candidate David Edmond in November.
Superintendent of Education
The winners of the Superintendent of Education primaries will face American Party candidate Ed Murray in November.
Other constitutional offices on November ballot
Nikki Haley (Republican), incumbent
Steve French (Libertarian)
Morgan Bruce Reeves (United Citizens)
Vincent Sheheen (Democrat)
Secretary of state
Mark Hammond (Republican), incumbent
Ginny Deerin (Democrat)
Richard Eckstrom (Republican), incumbent
Kyle Herbert (Democrat)
Alan Wilson (Republican), incumbent
Parnell Diggs (Democrat)
SOURCE: S.C. State Election Commission