Governors, Legislatures, and Budgets: Diversity across the American States

By Edward J. Clynch; Thomas P. Lauth | Go to book overview

14
South Carolina: The Demise of Legislative Dominance?

MARCIA LYNN WHICKER

Until recently, the legislature has both reigned and ruled in South Carolina. Legislative dominance is firmly rooted in the state constitution and is reflected in the formal structure of state government as well as in informal patterns of influence. The historical origin of legislative dominance is as old as the nation itself, since all thirteen original states adopted legislative-centered forms of government, reflecting the distrust of the former colonies for executive authority. 1

Historically, legislative dominance provided a mechanism by which states in the Deep South suppressed black political participation. Reform-minded governors were checked in their ability to implement innovative state policies. Control of county government and much of local politics rested with the state legislative delegation. The heavy focus on state spending as opposed to local spending to fund education and social services assured that whites, a majority at the state level but not in many counties with majority black populations, would have the final say over the type and level of services provided. Until recent years, blacks were rarely elected to the state legislature, even from majority black counties. Legislative dominance reflected the attitudes of white political elites, particularly those from rural areas. The idea was to maintain traditional authority patterns, especially those pertaining to race relations, even at the expense of state economic development. 2

Part of the reason why blacks are absent from Southern state legislatures, including South Carolina (which ranks only behind Mississippi in the percentage of black population), may be attributed to the greater costs of running for state office in comparison to local office. In South Carolina, prior to 1967, electing one state senator from each of the forty-six counties was a method impeding black participation.

The mixture of single-member and multi-member senatorial districts used between 1967 and the early 1980s did not result in an increased number of black senators. Running electorally in a multicounty area was often even more costprohibitive than running in a single county. Furthermore, multicounty districts

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