I DID NOT WANT to write any more about Gov. Nikki Haley before the election; I wanted to keep my focus on why I think Sen. Vincent Sheheen should be our next governor.
But the fact is that people don’t replace incumbents because they like the challenger. They replace incumbents because they have a problem with the incumbent, and they don’t find the challenger too repugnant.
So we need to talk in a little more depth about the problems with the incumbent.
Those problems are not primarily about policy; our editorial board and I disagree with some of Gov. Haley’s positions, but we also agree with several of them. No, the problems are about her carelessness with the truth and her refusal to admit her mistakes, which her opponents have pointed out, and they are especially about her utter disregard for the rule of law, which inexplicably has not been an issue in this campaign.
This is a governor who has had people arrested for violating laws that did not exist, and that she wouldn’t have had the authority to enforce even if they did exist. This is a governor who has directly defied state law and has persuaded her political party to defy a direct order from the state Supreme Court and has attempted to order around the Legislature. This is a governor who has repeatedly had to be called back into line by state and federal courts — leaving the taxpayers to pick up the bill for defending her actions.
Gov. Haley first overstepped her authority at the end of her first legislative session, when she ordered the Legislature back into “extraordinary” session because it failed to pass a bill that she supported. (It was a bill I supported as well.) That would have been counterproductive even if she had the constitutional authority to do it, because it angered the legislators whose votes were needed to pass the bill. But she did not have the constitutional authority to do it. Legislative leaders sued, and the Supreme Court overturned her order.
Before that first year ended, she had assumed police powers, unilaterally imposing a curfew on Occupy Columbia protesters who had camped out on the State House grounds, and then having them arrested when they refused to comply with her unlawful order. (I think camping out on the grounds should have been illegal, but at the time it simply was not.) In issuing a restraining order, a federal judge noted that the governor was “making up” the rules as she went along. Our bill for that incident alone was more than a half million dollars.
In early 2012, when the state Supreme Court ordered party and election officials to obey a ridiculous but valid state law, Gov. Haley marched over to the state Republican Party headquarters and persuaded the GOP executive committee to ignore that order and put her favorite candidate back on the ballot. The Election Commission refused to acknowledge that lawless action, saving the governor and the party the ignominy of being found in contempt of court.
Later that year, the Legislature passed a budget that fully covered the increased cost of health-insurance premiums for state employees and retirees. Gov. Haley could have vetoed the funding but chose not to. Instead, when the perfunctory matter of approving insurance rates came before the Budget and Control Board, she persuaded the treasurer and comptroller general to join her in requiring state employees and retirees to pay part of the increase themselves. And again, I agree with her policy preference, but she simply did not have the authority to act. State employees sued, and the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the governor and her co-conspirators had violated the constitution by usurping the Legislature’s power to write the law.
As far as I know, Gov. Haley has not directly overstepped her authority since then. But her fingerprints were all over her DHEC director’s decision last year to tell hospitals, nursing homes and other health providers that they could ignore a state law that required them to get a certificate of need before making large purchases, after the Legislature failed to override her veto of the funding for the program. Once again, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that this was completely lawless — but not before Lexington Medical Center and several other health providers spent huge amounts of money on expansion projects that they might have to abandon. And we’ll pay for that as well, through our medical insurance.
Over the years, we’ve had governors who overstepped their bounds — Jim Hodges and David Beasley both used their veto pens in ways that turned out to violate the constitution, for example — but I’m not aware of a governor who has done this more than once, or in ways that were so clearly out of line. Gov. Haley has done it four and possibly five times.
That is not just notable. That is frightening. That is the stuff of dictators and tyrants. That, more than policy or personal characteristics, is reason to replace her.