Scoppe: Dum spiro spero

Associate EditorNovember 4, 2010 

I SPEAK FOR nearly half of South Carolina’s voters when I say that Nikki Haley was not my choice for governor.

I speak for all of South Carolina’s voters — for all South Carolinians — when I say that come January, Nikki Haley will be my governor.

I need her to succeed. We all need her to succeed.

I have worried that between her acrimonious history with fellow legislators and the way she reacted to legitimate questions that were raised about her finances, she could not be a successful governor. I need to be wrong. She needs to prove me — and so many others — wrong.

We need to help her do that. We need to set aside the questions about her taxes and her transparency and her jobs and all the other things that we questioned during the campaign. They were legitimate issues to talk about; we were right to worry about them. But they were indicators, reasons to make us worry that she would not be able to do the job. They were not disqualifiers. Nothing we saw proved that she could not succeed. She could surprise us.

I doubt that many people in 1986 honestly believed that Carroll Campbell was going to be a good governor, let alone a great one. Had he been candid, I doubt even he would have predicted his success. We had had only one Republican governor since Reconstruction, and he was merely a not-bad governor. Mr. Campbell had run an aggressively partisan race against the Legislature at a time when Republicans didn’t even hold enough seats in either body to sustain a veto. There was good reason to believe he would be a disastrous failure. Boy, did he ever surprise us.

We all need for Ms. Haley to surprise us.

We need to help her do that by giving her the benefit of the doubt, by letting her start with a clean plate. We need to judge her on what she does now that we have elected her our governor, not on what she said or did up to this point.

We need to look for ways to support her. That shouldn’t be too difficult, because many of her ideas make perfectly good sense: making smarter, more responsible spending decisions; making government more transparent; listening to the public; giving governors more authority.

Legislators need to do this as well. No, she can’t accomplish anything without their support. But they can’t accomplish much of anything without her support. Together, they can move our state forward — if that’s what they choose to do. We need them to choose to do that.

Ms. Haley also has a role to play. She needs to put action to her promises to work for us and make us proud. She needs to reject the model of two people who played huge roles in getting her to this place — Mark Sanford and Sarah Palin — and be about the business of governing rather than promoting self and ideology. Even if she wants with all her being to do this, it will be far more difficult for her than it was for either of them. Neither of them started out in the national spotlight; neither of them had already been proclaimed the future of the national Republican Party before they were even elected.

She made a good start with her victory speech in the wee hours of Wednesday morning. She could have delivered a red-meat address about all that’s wrong with the way our Legislature does business, about how she’s going to “burn” legislators who disagree with her. She did not. Unless you take offense at the “take back our country” rhetoric that seems to have become an inescapable part of the tea party litany, there was nothing divisive or unreasonably confrontational about her address. It was positive and gracious. It was full of general principles we can all agree on. Turning those general principles into specific action will be a different matter, because that’s where legitimate differences emerge, but we can all work through those differences if we are all committed to doing so.

One specific: Some of Ms. Haley’s most ardent supporters want to oust Rep. Bobby Harrell as speaker when the House meets the week after next to organize for the next session. Unless Ms. Haley is absolutely certain this venture will succeed, then she needs to not only not support it but clearly repudiate it. This isn’t about whether Mr. Harrell is the best speaker or not; it’s about what Ms. Haley’s relationship will be with the speaker. If she’s serious about governing, she has to have a respectful working relationship with him, and with the leaders of the Senate.

For weeks, when people have asked me about the election, I’ve been responding with our state’s motto: Dum spiro spero — while I breathe I hope. I hoped that Sen. Vincent Sheheen would be elected.

Today, as I consider the coming four years, I again say dum spiro spero. But today my hope is different. I hope that I was wrong about Nikki Haley. I hope that she will not bring us a repeat of the past eight, disastrously unproductive years. I hope that she will be the governor that our state so desperately needs.

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

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