Southern Politics

Boy, talk about a drama queen. Gov. Nikki Haley wins the award for her performances this week.

When Mark Sanford was governor, he pulled two big stunts in his first term that set the legislature, run by his own Republican Party, against him.

First in 2004, he showed up in the lobby between the House and Senate carrying two piglets (“Pork” and “Barrel”) to protest spending after the House overrode 105 of his 106 budget vetoes in just 99 minutes. The pigs defecated on his suit jacket, just one of the ways the stunt didn’t go too well.

The following year, he got a horse and buggy to cruise around the grounds of the Statehouse to illustrate how state government was stuck in the past and needed to be restructured.

After this grandstanding, Sanford had a hard time being taken seriously by most of the General Assembly, save a few true believers. He didn’t get much of his agenda approved, oddly enough, until his last year, which followed his extramarital affair and a boatload of contrition.

So now comes Sanford’s libertarian acolyte Nikki Haley, who distanced herself from Sanford following the affair by aligning herself with his now ex-wife. Haley in January started out with a bang with the legislature by wooing key lawmakers into her camp and essentially playing nice. Sure, there have been some bumps, but she’s gotten some of what she wanted, including voting transparency.

But she didn’t get to a new Department of Administration, which leads to this week’s drama in three parts.

Act One: Haley dropped by the Senate chamber this week to talk with a couple of members, But that led Haley critic and GOP Sen. Jake Knotts of Lexington to complain that she wasn’t invited to the Senate floor, which led to Haley defender Sen. Greg Ryberg, R-Aiken, to complain that Knotts was always trying to “stick it to the governor.” In the end, it was clear by Senate rules that Haley was allowed on the floor. Curtain.

Act Two: Every year around the beginning of June, the governor traditionally hosts a non-partisan reception to celebrate the end of the session. But on Wednesday, several Democrats were turned away from the doors of the governor’s mansion because they weren’t on the invitation list. Haley’s spokesman explained the party really was First Gentleman Michael Haley’s (what a title) to thank lawmakers who had been helpful. House Minority Leader Harry Ott, one of the people not invited, complained strongly about the loss of civility in politics. “We must not let the pettiness so common in politics today impede the prospect of advancing our state,” he wrote. Curtain.

Act Three: When the Department of Administration bill didn’t pass by the end of the session Thursday, Haley signed an executive order for legislators to return in a rare special session. The cost: at least $42,500 a day — the cost, as one lawmaker noted, of a teacher’s salary per year.  State Sen. Glenn McConnell is balking, saying that the Senate won’t show because “the Senate is closed.” House Speaker Bobby Harrell at first told House members that they should return, but that could change as his staff researches whether lawmakers are required to return. The House has passed restructuring bills that Haley wants.

The problem: Haley’s order might not be valid because the law that allows special sessions is for extraordinary circumstances, not because an agenda item didn’t pass in the first of a two-year session. Yes, that’s right, the restructuring Haley so desperately wants is not dead because the General Assembly has the opportunity to pass it next year.

But with all of the hysterics of a “petulant child,” as one lawmaker described the governor, who knows what’s going to happen?  The curtain is still open. But three things are clear. First, you can’t make up this stuff. Second, Jon Stewart has more comedy material to make the state look bad. And third, Haley is about to make herself as irrelevant as Sanford with state lawmakers because of her “my way or the highway” attitude.

Andy Brack, publisher of Statehouse Report, 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.