The old Gov. Nikki Haley is back: combative and outspoken, like her predecessor Mark Sanford, say Republican state legislators recently targeted by the GOP governor.
The second-term Lexington Republican says she just was doing what voters elected her to do when she took the stage at the S.C. GOP convention last weekend and praised 17 Republicans for backing her agenda 100 percent. Of the remaining 88 Republicans, who control the General Assembly, Haley asked: “Where’s my army?”
It’s the wrong question, say many of those Republicans, but it could prove costly nonetheless — to Haley, says a former S.C. GOP chairman.
Having only recently won re-election in a landslide, Haley risks becoming a marginalized lame-duck, less than six months into her second term.
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With only 12 days left on the scheduled legislative calendar, Haley’s hardline stance has insulted even some lawmakers who say they have worked hard to push her agenda.
“It’s being a little bit disingenuous to say ‘Where’s my army?’ on ethics when we delivered exactly what she asked us to deliver,” House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, told The State, referring to Haley’s top priority at the start of the current session.
“Our roads bill contains every component that she had in her plan and more, (though) it may not have been exactly what she asked for.”
Making Haley’s A-list of supporters also has its drawbacks.
“(It) makes my job as (Senate) majority leader a little more difficult, to keep everybody on board ... to join the army and not get people to desert,” said state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, a longtime ally of the governor. “A lot of time it is not what you say. It’s how you say it. Feelings were hurt.”
Others question what, exactly, Haley hopes to accomplish.
“It took me back,” said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, of Haley’s convention comments, adding that people turned and looked at each other “like: ‘What was that all about?’
“It’s a time where we’re supposed to be pulling together, a time for party unity.”
Eyes on 2016?
Not wanting to criticize the governor openly, some GOP lawmakers who attended the convention quietly grumbled that Haley’s speech was a ploy to get national attention – possibly to get a 2016 nod for vice president or a Cabinet position in a Republican administration.
Haley repeatedly has said she has no interest in leaving office in 2016 to move up politically.
“The only thing that drives me,” she told The State Thursday, “is, when I walk out the door on that last day, I want to know I did anything and everything I could to make this place better.”
But Haley also has maintained a high national profile, including an appearance last week on CBS’ “This Morning” and a Mother’s Day letter penned for Time magazine.
If Haley is shooting for a 2016 promotion, a difficult relationship with the Legislature – even one controlled by fellow Republicans – may not harm her.
Sanford’s frequent head-butting with GOP lawmakers did not keep him from reportedly making a Republican short list for vice president in 2008, just a year before he imploded, secretly flying to Argentina to see his mistress.
Others say the talk of Haley bullying legislators to improve her national profile is misplaced.
Jon Lerner, a Washington-area political consultant who has advised both Haley and Sanford, said governors are most interested in advocating their own principles and goals for their state. “How they going to be perceived nationally is irrelevant.”
‘Not small things’
Going after lawmakers is nothing new for Haley, who entered office in 2011 angry after a tough GOP primary campaign. In her first year, Haley issued report cards grading legislators that she brandished while touring their districts.
But her new approach to governing does mark a shift in tone since 2013, when Haley forged new legislative alliances that helped her push into law legislation restructuring government and increasing education spending.
After Haley’s landslide re-election victory, however, the governor’s tone shifted, once again blasting lawmakers in their hometowns and on social media.
Getting on Haley’s good list required siding with her on votes supporting ethics reform, and opposing a House-passed roads bill, legislative pay raises and borrowing for construction projects.
“These are not small things. I’ve never seen in my 4 1/2 years more significant votes ... than what I have seen in this one year,” Haley said last week, adding she is getting “loud” to try to rein in a “chaotic” Legislature.
Haley said lawmakers knew ahead of time what she was willing to support and what she would fight.
“I’ve killed all these things with them knowing ahead of time, ‘I’m going to come after you if you do it,’ ” Haley said.
But lawmakers say Haley’s message has not always been clear.
For example, while House members worked for six months on a proposal to address a $1.4 billion-a-year deficit in the money needed to repair, maintain and expand the state’s transportation system, Haley vowed to veto a gas tax increase.
Then, in her State of the State address, she reversed her stance, stunning many legislators by saying she would support a 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax if they agreed to give her control of the state Transportation Department and pass a larger, budget-busting cut in the state’s income tax.
“I was not in the light,” said state Rep. Gary Simrill, R-York, who led the effort to craft a House roads plan, meeting with the governor and her staff four times before her January State of the State address. “Had we known that she was for a gas tax increase, that would have been a game changer from the beginning.”
‘Accept ‘yes’ as an answer’
House members revamped the transportation plan to include the gas-tax increase and a $48-a-year income-tax cut on average, much smaller than the $689-a-year tax cut the average taxpayer would see under Haley’s plan.
Lawmakers say Haley’s tax-cut plan was unrealistic, dependent on the economy continuing to grow robustly. Otherwise, it would have forced cuts in state spending on education, law enforcement and health care.
Haley, who says her scuttled plan would have sent state surpluses back to taxpayers, rejected the House road-repair proposal, leaving the bill’s supporters off her A-list of lawmakers
Other Republican legislators say they have been ambushed by Haley this session as well.
For example, House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White said he learned Haley disapproved of his stillborn plan to borrow money for higher education, tech school and armory projects when she publicly accused him of trying to drive up the state’s credit card debt.
White said he was working well with Haley until this year. “Then, all of a sudden, she likens me to Washington and President Obama without even calling me up and saying, ‘Hey, what did you do and why did you do this?’ ”
Haley also blasted the most powerful legislator in the state, Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, in his hometown of Florence, saying her fellow Republican was the reason ethics reform legislation had stalled in the Senate. Subsequently, Leatherman moved forward, without regard for Haley, to promote a bill to borrow money to pay for higher education building projects, a plan the governor also opposes.
Several lawmakers called Haley’s all-or-nothing attitude “disappointing.”
“I don’t understand her tactics,” said White, the Ways and Means chairman. “We were moving the state forward for three years. All of a sudden, it’s back to the old Mark Sanford days.”
“If you’re not completely with her, you’re against her,” said state Rep. Nathan Ballentine, a Richland Republican who as a freshman legislator with Haley shared her feeling of being an outcast because both had defeated respected GOP incumbents.
“I’m an ally and a friend, and I always will be,” Ballentine said. “But we were not elected to work for the governor. We were elected to represent the state.
“Sometimes, she has to accept ‘yes’ as an answer.”
Wins from ‘going directly to the public’
Sanford, now South Carolina’s 1st District congressman, declined to comment about Haley, saying only that working with lawmakers is “an art, rather than a science.”
Governor from 2003-2011, Sanford was known for bringing a confrontational leadership style to the State House that pitted the state’s GOP chief executive against its Republican-controlled Legislature.
Sanford “delighted in being a contrarian (but) paid a price with that in his legislative relationships … because he went to war with the Legislature on issues,” said Fred Carter, Sanford’s first chief of staff, now the president of Francis Marion University in Florence.
Sanford famously brought two defecating piglets into the State House to protest what he said was “pork-barrel” spending in the state budget.
That move offended some lawmakers who respect the State House and General Assembly. But, Carter added, “(Sanford) got national press.”
Chad Walldorf, who worked in Sanford’s office and was appointed by Haley to head the state’s Bureau of Economic Advisors, credited Sanford’s style for some of his victories.
“Some of the wins that Gov. Sanford had came from going directly to the public,” he said. “It’s a long arc to get (legislators) to give up power.”
‘There were no surprises’
Haley’s public reproach has lawmakers recalling the governing philosophies of different leaders.
Simrill recalled the way that Gov. Carroll Campbell, a GOP father figure in the state, sought to partner with the General Assembly.
“(Campbell) didn’t tell us. He asked us what we thought about his agenda and how we thought it best to move his agenda forward,” Simrill said, adding governors do not have the constitutional power to pass legislation and do not “fund things.”
Even some allies say Haley has gone too far in the name-calling.
“I was surprised she took the extra step to say, ‘I disagree with these legislators on one of these three issues and therefore they need to get voted out of office,’” House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said of Haley’s GOP convention comments.
“Generally, it has been, ‘If you agree with me on 85 percent of the issues, then we’re friends,’ ” Bannister said, recalling a saying of Ronald Reagan.
Though critical of Haley’s tactics, lawmakers were not ready to write her off as a lame duck yet. She has almost a full four-year term left to serve and a few weeks left in this legislative session.
But there are warning signs that Haley’s attitude could result in a three-plus-year-long lame-duck status.
Next month, legislators will consider Haley’s latest, much-anticipated vetoes. If lawmakers move swiftly to override Haley’s vetoes — as they did with Sanford — she has lost the Legislature, said Katon Dawson, a former S.C. GOP chairman.
“You can open up the door and throw in a hand grenade,” Dawson said. “But you have to clean up that mess.”
Reach Self at (803) 771-8658; reach Shain at (803) 771-8619
Gov. Haley’s top 2015 legislative priorities
Fix roads, while lowering income taxes
In January, Haley proposed a 10-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike, giving the governor control of the S.C. Department of Transportation and cutting the state’s income tax by 2 percentage points. The House and Senate instead came up with their own plans.
Status: A standoff between lawmakers and the governor could end in a stalemate, or Haley could be forced to decide whether to veto or sign a bill that has a smaller tax cut than she proposed.
Pass ethics reform
After the S.C. House cleared Haley of ethics allegations in 2012, she announced updating the state’s 20-year-old ethics laws would be a top priority.
Status: Dead for the year, barring a miracle. The House passed several ethics bills this year and sent them to the Senate, which has rejected its own ethics legislation.