In the wake of a legislative whitewash of her “Savannah River Sellout,” S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley went on the offensive Thursday – alleging that Senate hearings into her recent betrayal of our state’s economic and environmental interests were nothing more than a political circus engineered by her 2010 gubernatorial opponent.
Last month, Haley’s appointees to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) overturned the agency’s previous position and approved a controversial permit paving the way for expansion at the Port of Savannah.
That decision – which was reached after Haley “guaranteed” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal a hearing on the matter – represented an early Christmas present for the state of Georgia, a slap in the face of the struggling port of Charleston, S.C. and sounded the death knell for the possibility of a deep water port in Jasper County, S.C.
Not only that, it guarantees that U.S. taxpayers will be on the hook for the Savannah expansion.
Haley’s sellout could literally cost the state of South Carolina hundreds of billions of dollars … which is why it is being challenged by the Savannah River Maritime Commission, the state agency that has statutory authority over decisions involving the state’s maritime interests on the river.
What motivated Haley to do this? After all, she said shortly after being elected that she was sick and tired of losing to Georgia and “didn’t have the patience” to let it keep happening.
Well, prior to the controversial decision being made, Haley was feted at a fundraiser held by a prominent Atlanta law firm with extensive maritime interests – an event that was attended by a sitting member of the Georgia Ports Authority. Also, Haley and her political consultant Jon Lerner have allegedly been negotiating with the chairman of the Georgia Ports Authority – a prominent national GOP donor – to land Haley a prime time speaking gig at the 2012 Republican national convention.
Of course in Haley’s world, she’s the victim of a partisan witch hunt … and she’s more than a little bit bitter about it.
In addition to slamming her former gubernatorial opponent, Haley also derisively referred to a Democratic state lawmaker who offered evidence of her administration’s sellout as the “Legislator of Five Points,” a reference to the downtown Columbia, S.C. nightclub district.
“This hearing was called upon by Vincent Sheheen, my former gubernatorial opponent, on the basis of an unclear, anonymous email and a ‘he-said, she-said’ in a bar by a legislator that is known in these walls as the legislator of Five Points,” Haley said.
Previously, Haley had boasted that no “smoking gun” would be found linking her administration to the sellout – although that ignores the fact that SCDHEC would have never even taken up the case had Haley not instructed them to do so. In fact the governor acknowledged as much on Wednesday during an interview with a local television station.
“Gov. Deal flew down here, and he said rather than your staff hearing what we have to say would you allow the board to hear it,” Haley said. “I absolutely allowed him to do that the same way I know he would allow it if I was doing something for South Carolina.”
Nonetheless … such middle school tactics are obviously nothing new for Haley, who has previously employed them in responding to criticism from Republican State Treasurer Curtis Loftis. Also, Haley’s attempt to turn this whole thing into a Democratic-versus-Republican issue ignores the fact that there was – and is – genuine bipartisan outrage over her decision.
Democrats wasted little time in firing back, though.
“We are not in high school and we should expect better from our leaders,” Sheheen said in a statement responding to Haley. “These are serious issues that deserve serious attention. The Governor and her DHEC board just sold out South Carolina’s environment and economy and we deserve to know why.”
Meanwhile Brown – whose account of an exchange with Haley legislative aide Katherine Veldran was first reported on by FITS – flat out called the governor a liar.
“Tell the Governor that I’m the representative from Fairfield County,” he said in a statement. “She’s probably never heard of it because it’s not in Georgia. If she had grown up in the community I grew up in, she wouldn’t have been taught to lie as much as she has since taking office. I’ll live with whatever she calls me, because in the end, it’s still better than being known as a sellout.”
Both Boyd and a lobbyist who witnessed his exchange with Haley’s legislative aide confirm that Veldran took ownership of the “Savannah River Sellout,” referring to it as “the best decision we have made since we’ve been in office.”
Under oath, Veldran testified that she and Brown never discussed the ports.
So … what’s next?
Haley has obviously cleared an initial hurdle in her appeasement of Georgia’s interests, but she could face additional scrutiny moving forward. After all, S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is representing the Savannah River Maritime Commission in this matter – and that entity is likely to raise a variety of legal challenges to the SCDHEC ruling.