A former ambassador and S.C. House speaker will advise Republican Gov.-elect Nikki Haley as she decides whom to hire for her staff and cabinet.
Monday Haley tapped David Wilkins to chair her transition team, noting the former U.S. ambassador to Canada has decades of experience coping with state issues. Wilkins, a Greenville Republican, was speaker of the House when Haley first took office as a state representative in 2004, and he served in the S.C. House under five governors.
Wilkins will be tasked with helping Haley identify cabinet candidates and other staffers for key state government positions. Wilkins said surrounding Haley with the best possible team will help her achieve her campaign promise of a more accountable government focused on job creation.
“I believe in Nikki Haley,” Wilkins said. “I believe she is the right person at the right time for our state.
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“I have seen my share of transitions, so I know there is a lot of work to be done.”
Haley’s transition team has received hundreds of job applications, but Haley said the team does not have any candidates in mind yet for cabinet positions. Haley said she did not know how many cabinet directors she would replace.
“We are going to get very creative on what this cabinet looks like. It is really about talent,” Haley said. “We haven’t gotten there. We really are going to look at every single one.”
Wilkins was House speaker when outgoing Gov. Mark Sanford brought two piglets into the State House lobby to protest the legislative budget. Lawmakers want to avoid a similarly strained relationship with Haley.
Haley takes office — and lawmakers return — in January with the state facing a projected $1 billion budget deficit, providing potential for early disagreements with the new governor. Wilkins’ advice could help avoid conflicts, Haley said.
Wilkins “knows what went right, and he knows what went wrong,” Haley said. “And rather than us recreating the wheel, let’s take what everybody did right, and let’s add to it so we can create another story.”
Haley campaigned pledging to take Columbia back from political insiders, and Democrats pounced on her naming a State House fixture to head her transition.
“The governor-elect has given the highest position on her team to one of the very same good ol’ boys she campaigned against,” said Democratic Party chair Carol Fowler.
“She can’t move this state forward by continuing to reach backward.”
Lawmakers, such as Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens, approved of the pick. Martin served in the House with Wilkins.
“He knows everybody and knows the process as well as anybody,” Martin said. “David’s record speaks to reform. He’s no stranger to the types of effort she’s making.”
Allen Olson, with the Columbia Tea Party, said Haley’s fulfilling campaign promises of reduced spending and transparency is more important than whether her hires are Columbia veterans or not.
Tea Party groups pushed to oust long-time politicians in favor of new faces with fresh perspectives.
Olson said Haley should give first preference to cabinet candidates with business experience.
Haley’s transition team will also include a pair of campaign staffers.
Campaign manager Tim Pearson will become executive director of the transition team, while campaign spokesman Rob Godfrey will maintain that position during the transition. Swati Patel, attorney for the Office of Governor under Mark Sanford, will become transition counsel.