Print this Page

Braving a bitter cold and whipping winds, Nimrata Randhawa Haley took the oath of office on Wednesday to become South Carolina’s 116th post-Colonial governor.

Haley, 38, is the first woman and first minority ever to serve as South Carolina’s governor – and her ascension to the office marks the latest chapter in her rapid, improbable political ascension.

“Today is a great day in South Carolina,” Haley said after taking the oath of office from S.C. Chief Justice Jean Toal. “It’s a day of new beginnings.”

Haley’s inaugural address acknowledged her humble roots, in particular thanking and praising her mother. She acknowledged the work done by her predecessor, outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford, but saved her most effusive praise for former S.C. First Lady Jenny Sanford.

In a nod to the difficult times facing the Palmetto state, Haley said that she was optimistic that the difficult road ahead would force state leaders to reassess their approach to some of South Carolina’s chronic problems.

“We know that tough times can produce some of the best decisions,” she said, adding that “failure is not an option.”

(To read Haley’s address in its entirety, click here).

The inaugural ceremony was delayed for approximately 15 minutes after an officer with the Bureau of Protective Services collapsed during the procession of family members and dignitaries. After doctors attended to the injured officer, the processional resumed.

THE ROAD SHE TOOK

Nine months ago, the notion of a Haley inauguration was a political pipe dream. As she and three other Republican candidates entered the final month of campaigning for the GOP gubernatorial nomination last spring, Haley trailed all of her opponents in the polls. More importantly, she trailed badly in the money race – meaning that she lacked the ability to get her name and message out to the voters.

That’s when S.C. Gov. Mark Sanford stepped in, persuading Reform SC – a third party group that has supported his policies – to spend $400,000 on a pro-Haley ad. After watching Haley get a noticeable bump in the polls as a result of this ad, Sarah Palin lent her endorsement to Haley’s candidacy.

At that point the race was on – although it was momentarily upended by a pair of affair allegations that have yet to be resolved. First, FITS founding editor Will Folks stepped forward amid threats from Haley’s rivals and revealed that he had engaged in an “inappropriate physical relationship” with Haley during the spring of 2007. A week later, lobbyist Larry Marchant claimed to have had a “one night stand” with Haley at a 2008 legislative conference in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Haley denied both claims, saying that “good ‘ol boy” politics were behind the allegations. That belief gained tremendous currency just days before the primary election when the ultimate “good ol’ boy” – S.C. Senator Jakie Knotts – referred to Haley as a “rag head” on an internet talk show.

Bristling at the sudden negative turn of the race, GOP primary voters delivered a stinging rebuke to the status quo by overwhelmingly supporting Haley in both the primary and in her decisive defeat of U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett in the GOP runoff on June 22.

During the general election, however, things quickly unraveled for Haley – who seemed poised to pull off a landslide of historic proportion.

First, her belated release of financial information during the final hours of the GOP runoff came back to haunt her – as did multiple tax problems that called into question her accounting skills. She also refused to release all of her taxpayer-funded emails, engaging in a transparency sham that ultimately raised more questions than answers about the secrets that her legislative computers may be hiding.

Basically, the two major themes of her candidacy – that she was a champion of transparency and an accountant who knew “the value of a dollar” – were falling apart. On top of that, the specific policy proposals introduced by Haley represented major retreats from her previous legislative positions – leaving many of her early supporters discouraged.

Beyond these ideological problems, Haley was caught lying about the circumstances surrounding her forced departure from a cushy Lexington Medical Center job (here’s that story). She was also caught lying when she claimed she hadn’t used her position as a lawmaker to block an audit of her family business (here’s that story).

Finally, in the waning weeks of the campaign the affair allegations against Haley resurfaced as both of her accusers submitted affidavits attesting to the veracity of their claims – something Haley refused to do.

“It’s up to them to prove it,” Haley told reporter Robert Kittle of WSPA TV 7 (CBS – Spartanburg, S.C.)  “It’s not up to me to prove that I’m telling the truth. It’s up to them to prove that is true.”

Haley ultimately defeated S.C. Senator Vincent Sheheen, although her 51.3 percent vote total was profoundly disappointing considering that South Carolina is a reliably Republican state and 2010 was a GOP “wave” election. Haley’s victory margin was the narrowest of any statewide Republican candidate, and her vote total was the second-lowest.

THE CHALLENGES SHE FACES

Haley immediately finds herself confronted with a number of pernicious realities – and limited tools to fix them.

The first issue she’ll face will be the state of South Carolina’s budget. After lawmakers appropriated a record $20.8 billion for the current fiscal year, next year’s budget faces an estimated $1 billion shortfall. Not only that, at a meeting of the S.C. Budget and Control Board scheduled for Thursday, three of Haley’s cabinet agencies are expected to renew their requests to run a combined $264 million deficit for the current fiscal year.

How she handles those requests will be the first fiscal test of her young administration …

The second test will come when Haley unveils her spending blueprint for state government. After originally saying that she would not submit an executive budget, Haley later flip-flopped on that position. It remains to be seen, however, whether she will actually submit a comprehensive spending plan (as Sanford did) or merely provide lawmakers with suggestions as previous governors have done.

Haley also inherits a weak economy.

Specifically, South Carolina’s production is sputtering, its income levels are plummeting and its unemployment rate remains among the highest in the nation.

Academically, several years of record funding increases and so-called “accountability” measures have done nothing but make matters worse for Palmetto state students.

In fact, South Carolina’s public education system has continued to produce nothing but incremental gains among white students while relegating another generation of black students to second-class status – even as black “leaders” continue embracing the failed status quo. Our state’s overall graduation rate remains among the worst in the nation – has improved by a meager 1.5 percent over the last decade, one of the worst percentage improvements in the entire country. That’s consistent with our rural graduation rate (which currently ranks dead last in the country) as well as our declining SAT and stagnating ACT scores.

Structurally, South Carolina is every bit as backward today as it was in 1895 when the last State Constitution was passed – although this is one are where we believe Haley has offered a solid batch of policy proposals.

Obviously, the ultimate responsibility for all of these problems (and their solutions) lies with the S.C. General Assembly – which not only makes the laws in this state but exercises a disproportionate amount of control over the executive branch of government that Haley now ostensibly leads.

THE SOURCE …
Gov. Nikki Haley (Official Site)

***