South Carolina's Jim Crow-Era Law Leads to an Insane Military Election

There are fifty states in our blessed union. There is only one state that holds an open election for the general who will command its National Guard forces. The reason is to keep black people from being too powerful. The result is that a convicted stalker may end up with all the tanks and guns.

Via Stars and Stripes, here is the bizarre story of how the commander of South Carolina's 9,000 National Guard troops has to take off his uniform, don a fancy suit, and stump for Republican voters:

South Carolina is the only state in the nation where voters choose their top military officer in a general election.

In past years, the race in this military-friendly state has amounted to a mundane exercise. In 2010, Livingston made his first run for the post with no opponent and garnered 99 percent of about 900,000 votes cast.

"It is kind of awkward to switch from being a soldier that doesn't attract — and doesn't want — public attention, because my job is to serve beside and behind our commander in chief," Livingston told the AP shortly after announcing his re-election bid last month. "But when I become a politician, I have to seek attention."

This time, the race for the Republican nomination in the June 10 primary is spicier because it is contested.

Several points to make here:

First, Livingston—a two-star general commissioned by the federal government—seems eminently qualified as a National Guard commander, having worked for then-Gen. David Petraeus and led his troops on a deployment to Afghanistan in 2007.

His last challenger, whose main platform was that he was "not some left wing hippie," held a fundraiser that raffled off an AK-47. This year, Livingston is being challenged in the GOP primary by one William James Breazeale.

Breazeale is an Army Reserve field officer who has twice run unsuccessfully for Congress as a tea party-acceptable conservative—and who is currently on probation after a stalking conviction and, according to one report, has "a lurid personal history which includes references to intimidation, aggravated stalking, criminal trespass, larceny, threats of suicide, and even threats of murder directed by Breazeale at members of his own family."

His website is jamesforgeneral.com.

The second point is that this is all about the Republican nomination, and these are the only two candidates. There is no other party nominee or independent challenger running for adjutant general in the state. The winner of the GOP nod will be the uncontested generalissimo. Because what right-thinking South Carolinian wants some pantywaisted Democrat or Green in charge of the troops during a state of emergency?

That leads to the third point: An election for generals, practicalities aside, seems to politicize the military in a way the military generally isn't comfortable with, and in contravention of the longstanding American tradition of civil-military relations. What kind of party litmus test does a candidate need to fulfill in order to get campaign support to run for general?

If the whole thing seems a little unseemly and un-American, that's because the South Carolina election law is basically a holdover from the Reconstructionist Lost Cause days, according to Stripes:

The reason behind South Carolina's odd military election is a very old one, says Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon.

South Carolina's constitution dates from 1895, when the white establishment reclaimed power after Reconstruction and set up a weak-governor system, with nine of the state's top officials each elected separately, he said.

"That ensured that even if a black were able to become governor, no one person would control the state government and its top offices," Huffmon said.

Huh. A Jim Crow-era law that's still on the books, with hilarious consequences (until, of course, a hurricane or a riot comes).

Well done, South Carolina. Stupidity such as this is why you lost the war in the first place.