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On the same day that FITS founding editor Sic Willie released the first excerpt from his forthcoming book – a racy passage detailing his first “eighth-grade make out session” with then-S.C. Rep. Nikki Haley – the governor’s office itself was reverting back to middle school in dealing with one of the most important issues facing our state.

Late Friday, Tim Pearson – Haley’s “Generation Y” chief-of-staff – sent a smarmy, caustic letter to his counterpart in Loftis’ office, Bill Leidinger.

At issue was the growing controversy surrounding Haley’s closed door meeting earlier in the week with S.C. Senate Finance Chairman Hugh Leatherman and House Ways and Means Chairman Danny Cooper, among others. While no agenda or minutes from the meeting have been released, it was reportedly held to discuss the state’s health care budget – which these three politicians are scheduled to vote on next week as members of the S.C. Budget and Control Board (B&CB).

In fact, Haley, Leatherman and Cooper comprise a majority of the B&CB – which is what makes this private meeting so troubling, particularly given Haley’s stated support for a more transparent government.

For those of you unfamiliar with how state government “works” in South Carolina, the B&CB is a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative entity that was established by lawmakers to prevent S.C. governors from running their own branch of government. Along with the swarm of statewide offices we elect, it’s one of the main reasons that S.C. governors are impotent (politically, anyway) when compared to governors in other states. It’s also one of the reasons why there’s no real accountability in state government – which has led to all sorts of disastrous consequences for taxpayers.

We oppose the B&CB’s very existence, and have repeatedly recommended that it be disbanded and all of its functions placed within the governor’s cabinet. Unfortunately, legislative leaders are moving in the opposite direction – hoping to claim some of the board’s most essential functions for themselves.

Anyway, while this structural debate rages on there is an immediate issue that the B&CB (as currently configured) must address. Specifically, we’re talking about a $264 million deficit at three cabinet agencies – including a $228 million deficit at the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), an agency which has seen its budget raided repeatedly by lawmakers in recent years.

In fact, after refusing to address this issue last month, the B&CB is supposed to vote on whether or not to recognize this deficit at its next meeting on February 8.

That why Haley’s meeting with Leatherman and Cooper was so important – and why it should have never been conducted in private. Not only do these three politicians comprise a majority of the B&CB – but they were specifically discussing the state’s health care budget at this meeting – including the current $228 million shortfall.

That’s public business – and it should have been discussed publicly, which is something we thought Haley (of all people) would understand.

After all, Haley won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in large part thanks to her aggressive support of government transparency. Sadly, since winning the GOP nod she has demonstrated on multiple occasions that she doesn’t think transparency should apply to her – whether it’s her lax income disclosure, her convenient amnesia regarding a 2007 taxpayer-funded flight to China or all of those taxpayer-funded emails she refused to release last year when she was accused of having multiple extramarital affairs.

More recently, Haley’s refusal to conduct official business using her taxpayer-funded cell phone and email address have many speculating that she is discharging the duties of her office on personal phones and email addresses – something she previously chided former Gov. Mark Sanford for doing.

After this week we can add secret meetings with two of the biggest fiscal liberals in state government to the mix … meetings that excluded the B&CB’s two fiscally conservative members (Loftis and S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom), incidentally.

Not surprisingly, the mainstream media pounced on the “secret meeting” story – and quickly called the excluded public officials to get their thoughts on being left out of the budget discussion. Associated Press reporter Jim Davenport (and numerous other reporters) called Loftis’ office for comment, while we called Eckstrom’s office seeking his thoughts.

Given this deluge of media requests, Loftis’ chief of staff wrote a letter to Haley’s chief of staff requesting the minutes of the meeting.

“In order to clear up any misunderstandings in the press, I would like to have any documents related to that meeting including, but not limited to, the minutes and agenda,” Leidinger wrote to Pearson on Thursday.

In response to this perfectly reasonable request, Pearson unleashed a veritable torrent of amateurish condescension in a letter sent to Leidinger – after an advance copy had been leaked to the media.

“This is one of many meetings the Governor will have that involve the budget and other issues before the Legislature, and, being that he is not a relevant player in those issues, Treasurer Loftis will not be invited to attend those meetings,” Pearson wrote. “The Governor does not insert herself into the issues of the Office of the Treasurer that fall outside the scope of her duties as Governor, and I’d humbly suggest that Treasurer Loftis would do right by the people of this state if he adopted a similar policy.”

Translation? “Screw you, Mr. Loftis.”

Pearson was just getting warmed up, too.

“As a point of process, if in the future you have questions about any meetings participated in by the Governor and whether or not those would be pertinent to the Treasurer, I would appreciate if you presented them to me or the Governor personally, as every other Constitutional Officer has seen fit to do, as opposed to first running to the media,” he continued. “In my view, that would best ensure that there is not, as you put it, any ‘misunderstanding’ between our two offices.”

Wow. That’s pretty hypocritical advice – especially considering that the letter containing it was reportedly leaked to the Associated Press before it was even sent to Loftis’ office. Also get this: Sources tell FITS that Haley not only approved the letter – but also the strategy of leaking it to the press in advance in an effort to embarrass Loftis.

Apparently, Haley felt that such a harsh, public rebuke would send Loftis a message – but the only message that’s really being sent here is that Haley’s administration is secretive, petty and incredibly thin-skinned.

To his credit, Loftis let the matter die. In a statement published shortly after his office (finally) received Pearson’s letter, Loftis merely thanked Haley for responding and promised to work with her on the health care budget to “find solutions with full transparency and accountability to the citizens of our state.”

Others, however, claimed the exchange proved that Pearson isn’t ready for “prime time.”

“He really showed his immaturity with that (letter),” one Tea Party activist told FITS.

We agree. If Pearson wants to be taken seriously in his role as chief of staff, he needs to grow up … and fast.

To view the documents referenced in this story, click on the links below …

LEIDINGER LETTER TO PEARSON – FEBRUARY 3
PEARSON RESPONSE TO LEIDINGER – FEBRUARY 4
LOFTIS STATEMENT ON EXCHANGE – FEBRUARY 4