Gov. Nikki Haley’s influence over the S.C. Legislature is waning.
In her six years in office, Haley – like her Republican predecessor Mark Sanford – has clashed repeatedly with lawmakers in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
In her first term, Haley gave lawmakers report cards. She also once told a real estate group to “take a good shower” after visiting the State House, and she often takes to her Facebook page urging lawmakers to vote a certain way on legislation.
This year, Haley helped a political group raise more than $500,000, mostly from out-of-state donors, in an effort to oust longtime state Senate leaders in the June 14 GOP primary.
However, Haley’s chosen challengers won only one of the three Senate contests thus far decided. (Another will be decided by a June 28 runoff.)
Haley succeeded in ousting state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, one of three longtime state Senate leaders she targeted.
But she failed to oust Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, the state’s most powerful politician, and state Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, head of the Senate Ethics Committee.
Afterward, Leatherman acknowledges he told a primary-night victory party that not only was Haley a lame duck, she was a “dead duck.”
State Rep. Chip Limehouse, a Charleston Republican who did not seek re-election, criticized the role that Haley tried to play in the primaries.
“It’s not good form for a sitting governor to go after members of his or her own party,” Limehouse said.
“I don’t think it makes getting her agenda passed for next year any easier,” he said, adding Haley targeting Leatherman “was a mistake at every different level.”
The influence of governors typically wanes in the last two years of their term, said Leatherman, whose legislative tenure has seen six governors. However, backing challengers to sitting legislators – and failing to unseat them – could make Haley even more likely to become a lame duck, he added.
Florence County voters did not appreciate the governor telling them who should be their senator, Leatherman said, adding that Haley’s opposition helped him win re-election.
“I’ve even considered writing her a letter thanking her for helping me win,” Leatherman told The Buzz.
S.C. House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, says Haley’s position is perfectly normal.
The closer a governor gets to the end of his or her term, the more people start looking forward to what is coming next, Bannister said. “Like the presidents and governors before her, obviously, she’s in the last two years of her term.”
Not everyone agrees Haley’s influence is waning.
Haley has used her bully pulpit effectively in the past, most successfully when she called for lawmakers to remove the Confederate flag from the State House in the wake of the Charleston church shooting.
“I still think she drives the agenda,” said state Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, a Haley ally. He added lawmakers passed two ethics proposals before going home for the summer. “If she wasn’t pushing those bills we never would have passed them.”
Another Haley ally, state Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, said, “I’ve tried to be her supporter long before now, and I will continue to try to be.”
Legislators back Lexington solicitor candidate
Two top state Senate Republicans are lining up behind veteran prosecutor Rick Hubbard in the 11th Circuit solicitor’s race in Lexington County and nearby areas.
Sens. Katrina Shealy of Red Bank and Shane Massey of Edgefield, the Senate majority leader, both are supporting Hubbard in his June 28 Republican runoff contest with Candice Lively.
Earlier in the race, Lively, a former Horry County prosecutor, went to Shealy for advice about running an anti-establishment campaign.
However, the senators say that Hubbard’s experience – as a former 11th Circuit prosecutor and deputy S.C. attorney general – fits the bill for what’s needed as chief prosecutor in Lexington, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties.