COLUMBIA, SC — If they do nothing else this year, Gov. Nikki Haley and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen want to blow up state government.
Haley, the first-term Republican governor from Lexington, and Sheheen of Camden, her most prominent Democratic rival, want to demolish the state Budget and Control Board, the hybrid entity that combines legislative and executive powers into a mysterious form of government that few South Carolinians understand.
The two want to replace the budget board with a new state Department of Administration that reports directly to the governor, a move that, advocates say, would make the governor and the Legislature more accountable for their actions.
There is one problem: Haley and Sheheen are political enemies.
They ran against each other for governor in 2010 and most likely will run against each other for governor in 2014. Even now, they are skirmishing about the hacking scandal at the Department of Revenue as they jockey for position in the upcoming 2014 election.
But if Haley and Sheheen are to pass government restructuring an idea they both have advocated for years they will have to work together, forming a political odd-couple alliance the likes of which South Carolinians have not seen since Democratic Gov. Jim Hodges and Republican Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler shared the first floor of the State House.
Can Haley and Sheheen work together in a show of bipartisanship unknown in this political climate? Or will they stare each other down in a policy of mutually assured destruction that could kill restructuring and hurt them both politically?
As with all things political, it could come down to who gets the credit.
It is in both of their interests to give credit to each other, said state Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, who is with Sheheen one of the primary sponsors of the restructuring bill. Everyone involved recognizes that the bill doesnt happen its not going to pass without both of them.
It was a big mess
Haley and Sheheens first attempt to work together ended with a lawsuit and a legislative shootout.
In 2011, Haleys first year as governor, the restructuring bill passed the House and almost passed the Senate. But, near the end of the session, Massey and Sheheen introduced a last-second amendment.
Haley and her staff worked hard to kill the amendment. Lawmakers dont like surprises, especially surprises that happens late in the session. Haley worried the amendment would spook lawmakers and give them an excuse to vote against the bill.
But Massey and Sheheen, surprisingly, won.
That was one of the many reasons that caused (the bill) to stall and fail, Sheheen said last week. You had the governor who was against this amendment that we ended up passing. That built up a lot of kind of friction and ill will with the different bodies with her office. It was a big mess.
Thats not true, Gov. Haley responded last week in an interview with The State. If anybody wanted (the Department of Administration), it was me.
Indeed, when lawmakers adjourned for the year without passing the bill, Haley ordered them to come back into session to act on the bill. Lawmakers refused to return and took Haley to court, where they won, stopping the bill in 2011.
The next year the second year of a two-year session started well. Haleys office supported the amended version of the bill. When the bill finally passed the Senate, Haleys office sent out a news release publicly thanking Sheheen.
But the State House is a strange place.
Just because something passes the House and Senate does not mean it becomes law. Because lawmakers had passed different versions of the same bill, they had to work out those differences before Haley could sign the bill into law.
And that took a long time. By the time they finished on June 21 lawmakers only had one day to approve the bill. They had to pass it by 5 p.m., or the bill would die and lawmakers would have to start from scratch again in the next session, having lost two years worth of work.
A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans used a run-out-the-clock strategy, doing everything in their power to keep the bill from coming up for a vote before 5 p.m.
The Senate voted four times to force a vote on the bill. Each vote failed. The last vote happened at 4:03 p.m. It failed by one vote Sheheens.
A bill that Sheheen had advocated for years failed because he didnt vote for it. Could Sheheen not pass up a chance to embarrass his Republican rival?
No, the Camden Democrat said last week. Instead, even though this was, in large part, my baby over the years, Sheheen said he was uncomfortable with last-minute changes lawmakers made in the bill.
The proposals that had been changed and altered in the conference committee werent good. Then, I would have felt very guilty that we didnt take the time to do it right, Sheheen said. I would rather pass a good bill this year, that I have confidence accomplishes what we want, than a bad bill six months before. Thats being careful and responsible. And there are a lot of irresponsible people in government. And I try to be responsible.
Haley watched the vote from her office.
It was a bad day, she said. I dont know why he did what he did. What I can tell you is we had too many people work too hard to sit there and waste taxpayer dollars. ... To waste taxpayer dollars at a time when this is so important and so needed for the state was a slap in the face of the public.
They are going to play their games
This year, Haley and Sheheen are trying again.
Sheheen filed the restructuring bill again in December and rushed it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, placing it on the Senate calendar for debate.
But the scars built up over the past two years might not have healed.
I welcome working with Sen. Sheheen if he is serious about wanting this, Haley said. I know Sen. (Larry) Martin and Sen. Massey are, and so weve talked to them. I have not personally talked to Sen. Sheheen.
Sheheen said he has not contacted the governor, either, although he said he wants to work with her to put the personalities aside and do whats right for South Carolina.
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, said Sheheen has been working to line up Democratic votes for the bill. Lourie said Sheheen was key to convincing him to vote for it.
The 2013 legislative session is three weeks old, and already Haley and Sheheens restructuring alliance is being tested. On Tuesday, state Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, a Haley critic, will try to send the bill to the Finance Committee, which he heads.
The real fear about that is well never see it again if it goes to Finance, Martin, R-Pickens, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last week. I believe Sen. Sheheen is very committed to the bill, but the thing is that commitment for all of us has got to be demonstrated next week as weve got to move this bill forward, for everybody.
Haleys office is working furiously to keep the bill out of Leathermans committee. Sheheen said his inclination would be to not send it to Finance. But, he added, I wouldnt rule it out if I thought there were reasonable guarantees to move it forward.
Haley said she just wants the bill passed.
They are going to play their games, she said. I just want the policy to pass. I dont care.
Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.