Southern Politics

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is going to be seen across the state this week shucking and jiving, grinning and spinning about what a great job she is doing for the state of South Carolina. But is she really?

Photo by Albert N. Milliron

After 100 days as governor, the telegenic Haley’s actual accomplishments are far fewer than what she would have you believe. If you put stock in the spin machine, you would think that signing a bill to require recorded budget votes was as important as, say, firing the shots on Fort Sumter.

“We have changed the face of South Carolina forever,” Haley trumpeted recently at an event to sign into law a measure to make legislative votes more “transparent.”

Hogwash. This hullabaloo over transparency in government is a false issue. Major budget votes in South Carolina have been recorded for years. Most of the ones Haley has been so ginned up about were noncontroversial measures, many of which traditionally pass unanimously. Anyone willing to witness with the oft tedious process of crafting laws would know it’s hard to hide anything because the law requires legislative meetings to be in full public view.

The governor’s office is touting more than two dozen accomplishments in Haley’s first 100 days. Some of them are valid, such as “protecting the taxpayers” by resolving deficits at the departments of Corrections and Social Services. Or working with the legislature to sign into law a measure that will reform what Medicaid providers are paid. Or creating the Office of Inspector General by executive order.

Other reforms are squishier. She’s lauding passage by the S.C. House of a bunch of bills, such as a long-awaited bipartisan effort on a new Department of Administration, spending caps and tort reform. But in truth, these are only half accomplishments, because the Senate hasn’t approved them. (A cynic might say a bill making the rutabaga the new state vegetable would pass the House because it will approve almost anything.) But no matter, the spin machine has to keep going.

Other “accomplishments” are from left field:

  • “Occupancy rates are up” – Huh? How did the governor accomplish that?
  • “Unemployment dropped a third time in a row” – Is that Haley, or the slowly recovering economy and things done over time that are coming to fruition?

Nikki Haley deserves credit for appointing grown-ups for the departments of Commerce and Corrections, but taking credit for having a peaceful leadership change at the Budget and Control Board is a little over the top. Her aggressive ambition to build a national profile is already wearing thin.

A leading GOP consultant, who asked not to be identified, said Haley’s first 100 days were disappointing: “Too much pettiness, too much time spent on things that don’t improve the citizens’ lives.  Transparency is important, but at the end of the day, jobs are what will get her re-elected.”

Democratic state Sen. Phil Leventis of Sumter made a joke about it: “She’s done something that physicists have been confounded about for years — she’s created matter in the form of issues that have no substance, and then made them have substance. … She is just obsessed with creating an image and creating spin and, as such, has not gotten really anything done for the state.”

Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, described Haley’s tenure so far as a “mixed bag” with most of progress being on measures like transparency that were “low-hanging fruit, stuff everyone pretty much wanted to do anyway.”

Haley supporter Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, told Statehouse Report the governor had done a good job setting the agenda in the legislature.

“Bills are going through committees without delay,” said Davis, a former chief of staff to Gov. Mark Sanford. “I can’t wait to see how she does over the next few months on the way to the finish line. Her leadership and her message have been clear and energetic.”

On balance, Haley has had some successes in her first 100 days. But the “join the movement” championing of a cult of personality and promotion of process over substance are troubling. If Haley would use her rhetorical skills and political abilities to really work at getting people jobs, she could go down in history as a great governor. Until she looks at more than a mirror, she doesn’t get an A on any report card.

Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report and can be reached at: [email protected]

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Andy Brack

Andy Brack

Andy Brack is a syndicated columnist in South Carolina and the publisher of StatehouseReport.com. Brack, who holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, also publishes a twice-weekly newsletter about good news in the Charleston area, CharlestonCurrents.com. A former U.S. Senate press secretary and reporter, Brack has a national reputation as a communications strategist and Internet pioneer. Brack also is president and chairman of the Center for a Better South, a nonprofit regional think tank. Brack received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University. He, his wife, two daughters and dogs live in Charleston, S.C.