WHATEVER anyone might think about how Rep. Nikki Haley got to this point, there was nothing any reasonable person could find offensive about her first words to us as our governor- elect.
She reiterated what she considered her victory to be about: “We wanted a stronger economy. We wanted better schools. We wanted it to be about jobs. And we wanted government to remember that every dollar was not government’s money. It was the taxpayers’ dollars, and how we spent it mattered.”
She rejected the overheated rhetoric of identity politics and put her election in perspective, reminding us all how governors are properly judged: “While this election is going to be considered historic, you know what’s going to make this historic? It’s going to be the work we do for you in January.”
And she made one important promise: “To every citizen in South Carolina, regardless of how you voted, I’m going to get to work for you. And I’m going to try and make you proud.”
Her task is not an easy one.
Making South Carolinians proud isn’t simply a matter of not doing anything to embarrass us, although that certainly would be a welcome change.
It’s about moving South Carolina forward. It’s about accomplishing things. And possibly more than for any new governor in our lifetimes, it’s about accomplishing some very difficult things.
South Carolina’s jobless rate remains among the highest in the nation and our wages among the lowest, and a governor has precious few tools to change that. Revenue to improve our schools and provide other essential services has been withering away even as job losses have caused demand to skyrocket, and it’s about to get much worse.
Job recruitment and education improvement — the chicken and egg of a successful community — are long-term projects that Ms. Haley must address from the start but can’t hope to make dramatic progress on immediately. Her immediate priority must be our budget problems, which she has promised to deal with by carefully examining state spending and recommending specific changes accordingly. Although there will be legitimate differences of opinion about what constitutes essential services and what reasonably can be changed or eliminated, this is the only responsible approach. It’s also the most difficult, as Gov. Mark Sanford discovered.
Mr. Sanford would argue that the Legislature wasn’t willing to make the difficult choices he recommended; legislators say many of his recommendations relied on smoke and mirrors. Both claims are accurate. We hope that Ms. Haley will be able to find some legitimate reductions and changes that will allow us to meet the needs of our state with the reduced resources. But if she can’t, she needs to be able to do what Mr. Sanford never could: Be honest about the situation, and deal with what is rather than what he wanted it to be.
Anyone who watched Ms. Haley’s victory speech saw that she is an engaging, even inspirational speaker, who can make people believe that they, and she, can accomplish great things. She can come across the same way one-on-one. That’s not worth anything if you don’t do the hard work that’s necessary to deliver. But they are nonetheless important skills that we haven’t seen in a South Carolina governor in a very long time — and they can be particularly useful in a state where governors can succeed only if they are able to convince the Legislature to follow them.
Ms. Haley needs to do the hard work and use these skills well. Our state is counting on her.