Gov. Nikki Haley will invoke the memory of slain state Sen. Clementa Pinckney to ask state lawmakers to work together for South Carolina, according to an excerpt of her State of the State address obtained by The State.
“I did not know him well, but what I knew was that in every interaction we had, he was always kind and respectful,” the Lexington Republican plans to say Wednesday of the late Democratic lawmaker and pastor at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, who was slain last June with eight of his parishioners.
“The building we sit in invites disagreement,” according to the excerpt. “Honest policy differences do not need to morph into personal dislike, distrust and disillusion. After all, to paraphrase something I read last June, we are more than just members of warring political tribes, but brothers and sisters and fellow South Carolinians.”
Seeking to heal differences has been a theme in South Carolina during a year of turmoil, where the state made national headlines for slayings and a natural disaster.
Haley’s sixth assessment of the state before the General Assembly comes after a North Charleston police officer was charged in the death of an unarmed African-American motorist and a historic flood caused an estimated $12 billion in damage statewide.
Her address also is the first since she called successfully for the removal of the Confederate flag from the State House grounds after an avowed white supremacist was charged with murdering Pinckney, a Democrat, and his parishioners.
In response, Democratic lawmakers introduced bills to limit gun sales. But those proposals are expected to receive little support in this year’s session of the Republican-dominated Legislature. Haley, a national GOP star for her flag fight, firmly backs gun rights.
“Her heart went out to those people. But business is business as usual now,” said state Rep. Carl Anderson, a Georgetown Democrat who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus. “The reason we were determined to come back and pass those bills (to remove the flag) over the summer was because (otherwise) six months would have lapsed. And you see what happened now in January. It appears some folks have lapsed memories.”
Haley’s call for unity comes after some harsh remarks by lawmakers.
State House Democratic leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, called Haley “a selfish, vindictive narcissist” for opposing a bond package last year to pay for K-12 funding, a children’s hospital and higher education buildings. Her office called Rutherford’s critique “hate speech.”
State Rep. Chris Corley, an Aiken Republican who wanted the Confederate flag to stay at the State House, sent a Christmas card to legislators that said, “(M)ay you take this joyous time as an opportunity to ask for forgiveness of all your sins such as betrayal.”
Haley, a former state representative, also has been critical of lawmakers. She told an S.C. Realtors group last year, “Because I know many of you are going to the State House, which I love, just make sure you take a good shower when you leave.”
House Speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, said her comments were “middle-school insults that serve no purpose but to poison the well.”
In May, Haley asked state GOP leaders to boot Republican legislators in the next election if they backed the borrowing proposal or a roads-funding plan that increased the state’s gas tax but did not also include a far-larger income-tax cut.
Flooding, education to be topics
The governor, who turns 44 on Wednesday, is not expected to introduce new major initiatives in her State of the State address. However, she likely will address state funding needed after October’s historic rainfall and flooding. Education also will be a priority.
The state Supreme Court wants an update on the state’s plans to aid rural and poor schools by the end of the session. In response, Haley last week proposed a plan to borrow up to $200 million a year, starting in 2017, to renovate or replace blighted school buildings. “She's all in on K-12,” said Senate Education Committee chairman John Courson, R-Richland.
Haley is coming off a week where she won praise in some circles — and criticism in others —for her State of the Union response where she admonished her own party for playing a role in the federal government’s dysfunction. The national address raised Haley’s profile as a possible Republican vice presidential pick this year.
House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville, said he expects the governor to call out the GOP-majority state Senate for not voting on road-repair and ethics bills, passed last year by the House.
“I feel like the House has taken a lot of her priorities and sent them to the Senate, where they are awaiting a hearing,” Bannister said. “I think it'll be a non-partisan — ‘Y'all do something’ — encouragement.”
Rutherford, who said he sent a congratulatory text to Haley last week after her State of the Union response, said he wants to hear details about the governor’s plans for improving the state beyond this year. “What are you going to do for everyday South Carolinians as they trudge this progress forward?” he said. “We've been doing well, but we need to do better."
S.C. State of the State
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Who: Republican Gov. Nikki Haley; state Rep. Mandy Powers Norrell of Lancaster will give the Democratic response immediately afterward
Watch: S.C. ETV
State of the State excerpt
An exclusive excerpt of Gov. Nikki Haley’s State of the State address that she will deliver Wednesday to the General Assembly:
“In the days following the tragedy at Mother Emanuel, and in the many months since, I have thought a great deal about Sen. (Clementa) Pinckney.
“I did not know him well, but what I knew was that in every interaction we had, he was always kind and respectful.
“I knew him to be a goodhearted public official. I knew him to be a senator who spoke infrequently, but when he did, it was with great intensity and even greater authority. I knew him to be a man who never seemed to speak against anyone or anything but instead to advocate for the people and the ideas that he believed in.
“The building we sit in invites disagreement. That is a good thing, a healthy thing – we should not pretend to all believe the same things, nor should we be silent about where and when we differ.
“But disagreement does not have to mean division. Honest policy differences do not need to morph into personal dislike, distrust and disillusion. After all, to paraphrase something I read last June, we are more than just members of warring political tribes, but brothers and sisters and fellow South Carolinians.
“Sen. Pinckney was more than just a senator; he was a father, a husband, a brother, a son. A reverend.
“We should all spend a little more time getting to know the people behind the policies.”