Scoppe: What makes Haley different

Associate EditorOctober 24, 2010 

ONE OF THE most striking things about the Republican candidates for attorney general, education superintendent and lieutenant governor — all of whom our editorial board chose to endorse over their Democratic opponents — is that they go out of their way to present themselves as the absolute opposite of Rep. Nikki Haley.

They don’t put it in those terms, of course. Only lieutenant governor candidate Ken Ard even obliquely referred to Ms. Haley when he met with our editorial board. But the central theme for both Mr. Ard and attorney general candidate Alan Wilson was the importance of listening and learning from people of all political persuasions, of getting things done rather than scoring points. Education superintendent candidate Mick Zais made similar points, but mostly he just demonstrated how little he was of that world of finger pointing and choosing sides.

This is normal talk for Democrats; in such a completely Republican state, they can’t hope to get elected, much less be effective, unless they’re willing to compromise and to seek out allies across the political spectrum. But it’s not something Republicans usually feel the need to talk about — particularly not this year.

Ms. Haley was like this the first few years she was in the House; it was one of the things that impressed me about her. But somewhere along the way, she made the decision to attack legislative leaders rather than working with them, to insist on ideological purity rather than yielding any ground to all those other people who got a vote too. She promises that she has learned from Gov. Mark Sanford’s mistakes, that she would not blind-side the Legislature as he has, that she would focus on those issues where she finds common ground with lawmakers — and with all my being I pray that she is able to follow through on that if she is elected.

But her actions drown out her promising words.

Her entire campaign has been an attack — sometimes implicit, sometimes explicit — on the Legislature that her own party controls. Now, I spend most of my time criticizing the Legislature, and she is absolutely right on several points, but when you’re the governor, simply being right doesn’t do a single thing to grow our economy or improve education or make our state safer or our people healthier and more prosperous.

Even when her targets are elsewhere, she employs the Sanford tactic that most infuriates legislators: taking a grain of truth and “enhancing” it, because the truth is just too complicated or isn’t dramatic or pithy enough. Consider a single example, from her debate Tuesday with Sen. Vincent Sheheen: She continued to talk about eliminating the “small business income tax,” even though there is no such thing. When Mr. Sheheen wouldn’t let up on the fact that her proposal would actually benefit only the largest businesses, she finally implicitly acknowledged that and switched to arguing that the big out-of-state corporations would buy supplies from local small businesses. That’s a legitimate argument for ending the tax on large companies, but it takes more explaining than just making things up.

She also demonstrates the Sanford trait that most infuriates legislators: Do as I say, not as I do. In the most hypocritical example, she says legislators should disclose all their income, but the only reason we know about a consulting job she had with a state contractor was that her opponents shamed her into letting reporters look at her income tax returns. (Imagine what credibility she could have won for herself and her bill if she had taken the initiative to report it, and said, “I realized that this was something the voters needed to know; my own experience helped convince me we need to require this sort of disclosure.”)

The fundamental problem with Ms. Haley is that she almost certainly would bring us four more years of gridlock. Sure, that means the Legislature won’t do all those “liberal” things that some fantasize that it wants to do — but it won’t do any of those things Ms. Haley wants it to do, either.

If your choice is between a candidate who won’t accomplish anything and one who will accomplish all the wrong things, of course you go with the one who won’t accomplish anything. That’s not the choice we have. Mr. Sheheen has done more than Mr. Sanford to advance what Mr. Sanford has called his signature issue — empowering the governor; that’s one reason Mr. Sanford’s chief Senate allies so frequently co-sponsor Mr. Sheheen’s bills. He warns of painful times ahead because he won’t try to tax us out of our fiscal problems. His tax overhaul plan was co-sponsored by Sen. Larry Grooms, who ran briefly for governor as a conservative alternative to Ms. Haley. You don’t have to listen hard to hear Democratic activists complain that Mr. Sheheen is too conservative. This is not a liberal. This is a pragmatic, centrist reformer who is focused primarily on using the powers of the governor’s office to convince businesses to locate and expand in our state, and enacting the very reforms that Mr. Sanford and Ms. Haley say they want — but can’t deliver.

If you’re happy with the status quo, by all means vote for Ms. Haley. If you want someone who can work with others to move our state forward, vote for Mr. Sheheen. And Mr. Ard. And Mr. Wilson. And Dr. Zais.

Ms. Scoppe can be reached at cscoppe@thestate.com or at (803) 771-8571.

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