Editorial: Haley’s latest problem with the facts

07/22/2014 10:37 AM

07/22/2014 10:37 AM

“Over 3,000 recommendations were made to where we saw South Carolina needed to improve. Everything that came from that recommendation list has been dealt with, whether it’s gone through and those agencies have changed it, or whether we’ve put legislation in place.”

THAT’S GOV. Nikki Haley, speaking at a recent campaign event about all that bureaucratic red tape that her regulatory review task force has spent the past year dealing with. If you think from that quote that South Carolina has 3,000 fewer regulations today than it did when she started, think again.

As The Associated Press reports, the task force recommended eliminating fewer than 50 regulations. And as a result, the governor’s Cabinet agencies have made 23 policy changes, and the Legislature has eliminated seven regulations. Which is to say that the actual reduction in regulations is precisely 1 percent of the number the governor is throwing around.

In defending her claim, Gov. Haley’s staff “clarified” — that’s the AP’s term — that 3,000 referred to the number of regulations that had been reviewed. And technically, the governor didn’t say otherwise; but there is simply no other message that a reasonable person could take from her words.

Now, we could argue that the fact that the governor’s hand-picked reviewers declined to recommend the elimination of a full 98 percent of the regulations they reviewed suggests that our state is not drowning in burdensome regulations. But in fact, we probably could do without some of those other 2,950 regulations.

More to the point, that’s not the point here. The point is the way Gov. Haley conveys what she portrays as verifiable, factual information. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, there she goes again.

In 2011, the governor was forced to acknowledge that she had never even tried to verify the claim — which she said she had repeated “a million times,” and used as the basis of her push for mandatory drug testing for unemployed workers — that half the job applicants at the Savannah River Site had failed drug tests. The actual number turned out to be less than 1 percent.

It was the most dramatic in a long string of incidents where she had said things that were demonstrably untrue, and at the time she told The Associated Press, “I’m learning through you guys that I have to be careful before I say something.”

That was an extraordinary thing for a governor to be “learning,” but we thought she had indeed become more careful. This latest incident makes us wonder if we haven‘t been grading on a curve, making allowances for her … carelessness.

After all, she never has stopped referring to job announcements — that is, employers’ promises to create new jobs — as actual new jobs. This consistent and persistent misstatement of the facts is puzzling since the actual numbers are impressive. But like so many of the instances where she overstated or misstated the facts or presented them in a way that is terribly misleading, apparently they’re not good enough for her.

We don’t know the governor’s heart, or precisely how her brain works, so we can’t say for sure whether she is merely reckless with the facts or whether she deliberately misstates them. That is, does she not care whether she’s telling the truth, or is she a compulsive liar?

That’s something voters will have to sort out for themselves, assuming such things as veracity matter to them. But here’s one thing that seems sadly clear: The fact that our governor says something doesn’t mean it’s true. It might be, but it still needs to be verified.

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