S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley will reflect on her six years as S.C. governor when she gives her final State of the State address Wednesday.
“You reflect on the hard times, and you reflect on the good times,” Haley said in an interview Monday. “You reflect on the relationships.”
Haley will resign as governor to join the Trump Administration after she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
South Carolina’s first female and minority governor will leave a complicated legacy of dramatic successes, half measures celebrated as successes and agencies that failed to protect the state’s residents.
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Haley will be remembered for comforting grieving South Carolinians in the wake of the Charleston Emanuel AME Church shooting and successfully pushing to remove the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
The Lexington Republican thrived during natural disasters — managing the state’s response to winter storms, historic flooding and Hurricane Matthew.
Haley’s legacy also includes announcing thousands of jobs in the Palmetto State, highlighted by Volvo’s decision to build a Berkeley County car plant.
But Haley, who often clashed with S.C. lawmakers, also accepted partial steps — that she claimed as victories — on issues that she championed, including restructuring state government and toughening state ethics laws.
Agencies under Haley’s oversight also failed S.C. residents. Children died under the supervision of the S.C. Department of Social Services. Poorly regulated dams broke during heavy rains. Hackers stole S.C. taxpayers’ personal information.
“I walk out of this door knowing that I worked as hard as I possibly could putting every ounce of my being into South Carolina, loving a state that raised me,” Haley said earlier this week. “We moved the ball in this state, and we moved the ball because of the way I pushed through and because of the way I stood up and because of the way that I made my voice known.
“In some cases, it worked and, in some cases, it didn’t.”
Removing the Confederate flag
On June 17, 2015, nine black parishioners in a Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church were shot and killed by white supremacist Dylann Roof.
The day after the shootings, Haley joined Charleston leaders for a news conference. She fought tears, trying to articulate what the killings meant.
“We woke up today and the heart and soul of South Carolina was broken,” Haley said, weeping. “Parents have to try to explain to their kids how they can go to church and feel safe, and that is not something we ever thought we’d deal with.”
Haley transformed that sadness into removing the Confederate flag, which Roof had posed with, from the . State House grounds. “We are not going to allow this symbol to divide us any longer,” Haley said to a packed news conference.
Legislators quickly agreed. The flag was furled July 10, 2015.
“She acted swiftly, gracefully and with great leadership,” said former S.C. Gov. David Beasley, who in 1996 unsuccessfully proposed moving the flag.
“South Carolina is not the state that people assumed it was or thought it was years ago,” Haley said earlier this week.
Having grown up in rural South Carolina, Haley said she has watched race relations — often divided by the flag — change.
“I’ve watched the acceptance. I’ve watched the kindness. I’ve watched the respect that has played out,” she said. “Are we going to have racial issues? We always will. ... But (after the Emanuel slayings) South Carolinians had the chance to put themselves in other people’s shoes and ... see that there was a hurtful symbol that had been highjacked by a murderer and made to be something other than what it was intended to be.”
The jobs governor
Haley’s State House office is decorated with groundbreaking shovels and hard hats.
When Haley took office in January 2011, South Carolina had a 10.5 percent jobless rate and was reeling from the Great Recession. In November, that jobless number was 4.4 percent and the state boasted more than 2.2 million jobs, 400,000 more than in 2011.
Haley’s largest economic development coup was convincing Volvo to build a Berkeley County auto plant.
Other sectors expanded as well as the economy recovered nationally.
Today, for instance, South Carolina is the country’s No. 1 tire producer, having landed Continental and Giti plants under Haley.
“One of the best things about Governor Haley is the jobs she’s brought to South Carolina,” said Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, noting Lexington tiremaker Michelin also expanded during Haley’s tenure.
Crippled by poor relationship with legislators?
While Haley had real successes, she also proved willing to declare victory when issues have not been resolved.
For example, Haley pushed for lawmakers to tighten the state’s ethics laws. Last year, lawmakers passed a law creating an independent ethics commission to investigate lawmakers and requiring legislators to report their sources of private income.
“We really brought accountability to the system — whether it was recorded votes on the record or whether it’s now that elected officials have to show who pays them and the fact that they don’t police each other anymore,” Haley said earlier this week
However, watchdogs say those ethics reforms don’t go far enough.
For instance, lawmakers are not required to disclose how much money they earn from private sources or required to report if their businesses earn money from groups that lobby state government.
Haley’s almost poisonous relationship with legislative leaders of her own party, who control the House and Senate, was part of the problem, says John Crangle, head of S.C. Common Cause. “Nikki Haley antagonized the leadership of the Legislature almost from the get-go,” Crangle said.
During her first term, Haley, a former legislator, issued report cards for lawmakers. After abandoning that idea, she often took to social media, calling out specific legislators she disagreed with. Last year, she campaigned against Senate leaders.
As a result, Haley’s bully pulpit lost much of its clout with legislators.
“She was unable to really do much to push the ethics reform,” Crangle said. “There’s a lot more that should have been done (that), obviously, wasn’t done in large part because Haley was not an effective advocate with the General Assembly.”
Similarly, Haley was forced to settle for half a loaf when it came to another top priority, restructuring state government to give the governor more clout.
She also is blamed by many legislators as the reason a fix to repair the state’s crumbling roads did not pass the Legislature.
Haley vowed to oppose a gas-tax hike when she was running for re-election in 2014. In 2015, however, she changed her mind, unveiling a plan to increase the gas tax in exchange for a far larger income tax cut, which critics said would force major cuts other parts of state government to the tune of $2 billion when fully phased-in.
‘History will judge me’
Haley’s tenure as governor also has been marred by failures at state agencies that report directly to the governor.
In 2012, the state Department of Revenue was hacked, compromising sensitive taxpayer information belonging to hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians.
In 2014, Haley’s head of the S.C. Department of Social Services resigned under pressure after an investigation into the deaths of children overseen by that agency’s overworked, underpaid staff.
In 2015, dozens of dams — regulated by the short-staffed S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control — broke during historic rains. Dozens more burst last year during Hurricane Matthew.
“(W)hen tragedies or situations came up, I couldn’t always control what happened, but I could control how we responded,” Haley said earlier this week.
But critics say Haley was slow to respond to problems at the agencies that she controlled.
“It took her time to realize how catastrophic things had become,” said former Sen. Joel Lourie, a Richland Democrat who played a key role in the state Senate’s investigation into Social Services. “We could tell, very early in our deliberations, that the problem was enormous and that a leadership change needed to take place as soon as possible.”
Haley says she did the best she could with what she had.
“I always tried to do the right thing for the people of South Carolina,” she said. “History will judge me based on whether I made the right decisions or not.”
Haley understands why Trump uses Twitter
Gov. Nikki Haley says she understands why President-elect Donald Trump uses social media.
“Sometimes, if you feel like your voice isn’t being heard through one avenue, you make sure that it’s heard through another, and I think that’s what he’s trying to do,” Haley said in an interview Monday.
Haley used social media during her tenure as governor, including urging legislators to sustain her vetoes — almost always overridden. “Anything that was happening in the state, that was my way of communicating with the public.”
For weeks, Haley has been preparing for her U.S. Senate confirmation hearing to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Preparations come in a lot of ways,” Haley said. “They come in reading. They come in talking to people. They come in all types of things. So I’m doing anything and everything I need to to work towards confirmation.”
Haley said her husband, Michael Haley, and son will go with her to New York. Meanwhile, her daughter will stay in school at Clemson University.
When she first visited Trump in New York in November, Haley said the topic was the secretary of state’s position. But, she added, “I knew that I didn’t have the experience to take on a role that big.”
When Trump asked if she were interested in any other Cabinet position, Haley said she told him no, returning to South Carolina. After that, she received a call about becoming U.N. ambassador.
Trump picked Haley despite her vocal criticism of the billionaire during the Republican presidential primaries. Haley said she was concerned about Trump’s approach and “the words that he used” on the campaign trail.
Haley is unfazed by critics who say she does not have enough foreign policy experience to be ambassador to the United Nations. “When I came into the governor’s office, everybody said I didn’t have enough experience to be governor,” Haley said.
Her goal, then, was to make everyone proud, she said. “I’ll say the same thing with this.
“I have been challenged all of my life in just about everything I’ve ever done, and that has built me up — to have strength and humility and a conscience — and to understand the power of my voice.”
State of the State
What: Gov. Nikki Haley’s final State of the State address
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
How to watch: SC ETV or scetv.org