Politics & Government

Gov. Nikki Haley supporting Columbia's strong mayor referendum

Just days before Columbia voters head to the poll to decide how their city should be run, the state's highest elected official has weighed in.

Gov. Nikki Haley has come out in support of Columbia's strong mayor referendum, which will be decided on Tuesday, after discussing the issue with Mayor Steve Benjamin.

A mailer explaining her position was sent to residents late this week.

"After talking to Mayor Benjamin, Governor Haley was happy to lend her support," said Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Haley, in a statement. "The governor has long believed in restructuring government to produce accountability and efficiency for the people it serves -- not just in state government, but at every level of government."

Adam Fogle, strategic advisor to the Columbia Citizens for Better Government, said Benjamin and Haley spoke at a recent economic development announcement. Fogle said Haley's support adds to the "broad, bipartisan coalition" supporting the referendum. He said that includes former Gov. Jim Hodges, former Attorney General Henry McMaster and others.

"This is exactly the kind of reform Governor Haley has fought for at the state level and a rare opportunity for our city," Fogle said in a statement.

Former state Attorney General Henry McMaster said Haley's endorsement is a huge advantage for supporters of the strong mayor system.

"She is one of the leading voices probably in the country on reform and making things work better," McMaster said.

Haley does not live in the Columbia city limits. And she has never served in local government. But McMaster said that does not make her less qualified to talk about reforming Columbia's government.

"A lot of he supporters of each side in this issue have never served in government office, that doesn't make any difference," he said. "You don't need to have served in an office to understand what needs to be done in an office."

Haley is a Republican and  Benjamin, while officially nonpartisan, has not hid his affiliation with the S.C. Democratic Party. But Benjamin is a client of veteran GOP consultant Richard Quinn -- whose firm is handling the public relations for the campaign to support  a strong mayor system.

"This vote is about the structure of government. We are not electing a candidate," McMaster said. "The governor and the mayor see it in the same light. Of course,(former Democratic Gov.) Jim Hodges and I  see it in the same light, and we are in different parties."