In South Carolina, the three branches of government operate under a state constitution that was last amended in 1895, in the post-Reconstruction era. The document was designed at a constitutional convention called by then-U.S. Senator and avowed white supremacist, Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman.
123-years later, a group of South Carolina legislators said it’s time to rewrite the constitution again. Leading that effort is Rep. Micah Caskey, a Republican from west Columbia and chairman of the house freshman caucus.
In an interview with WFAE’s Mark Rumsey, Caskey said the current state constitution makes it difficult to hold government accountable.
“Instead of a direct line of accountability from the government to the agency heads, there’s a commission, a board or some structure that is dominated by folks who have been appointed, selected or elected from the legislature,” Caskey said.
He said the structure outlined in the current state constitution takes away the governor’s power to hold those entities, and the legislators that run them, accountable.
Caskey said a more efficient and accountable alternative is to give the governor control and responsibility over those agencies. Voters would then hold the governor accountable for the success or failure of the agencies.
In an effort to change the current structure, Caskey and a group of other freshmen legislators, are proposing a constitutional rewrite.
“We introduced a bill this year that proposes to put the question to the people of South Carolina regarding a state constitutional convention in November,” Caskey said. “We recognize this is a long-term effort, so the exact combination of provisions or articles within a new state constitution would have to be developed with input from all sides.”
Marlon Kimpson, a democrat in the state senate, has said that a conversation regarding a constitutional rewrite should include the topic of reparations for descendants of slaves in South Carolina.
When asked if he supports reparations, Caskey said he thinks it is “premature to get into those specifics,” but he made it clear that he doesn’t support the idea.
“I’m not trying to dodge the question here,” Caskey said. “I don’t see a scenario where I would support reparations for folks who have not been slaves.”
According to Caskey, the fact that people are talking about a constitutional convention is what’s important.
“At this stage, what’s important is that people are opening their minds to the possibility of a state constitutional convention,” Caskey said. “We’ve got to reform government so that we do away with a model that was born out of openly racist and vile motivations.”
Caskey is a freshman lawmaker and the bill is being proposed by the freshman caucus. When asked if it’s naïve to think a constitutional convention and a rewrite of the state constitution is politically doable, Caskey said:
“I think that it’s universally recognized that changes of this nature take time. It takes a lot of time. Clearly, we haven’t done it in 120 years. We’re trying to take the opportunity that we have today as sitting members to say, ‘We need three co-equal branches of government. We need a government in South Carolina that’s accountable to the people.’ ”