GOV. NIKKI Haley, it turned out, has a real gift for knowing what to say and do and how to say and do it during times of crisis — the floods of 2015, Hurricane Matthew, the tragedy at Emanuel A.M.E. Church.
She has nudged our state toward providing a decent education for all children, though we still have far to go. And she has made some very good appointments — most notably but not exclusively Bobby Hitt as the Commerce secretary who worked with her on impressive job recruitment.
But for all the good she has done, she has been unwilling or unable to overcome two overarching flaws:
▪ Her rigid unwillingness to compromise with lawmakers — most notably but not exclusively in her demand that they cut income taxes by $1.8 billion in return for raising the gas tax by $400 million to pay for road repairs (yes, those crazy numbers are correct).
▪ Her disdain for the rule of law, which she has manifested in everything from ordering police to arrest demonstrators for crimes that did not exist to excoriating Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster’s procedural ruling in the Senate — which he had absolutely no choice but to make — that dealt a temporary setback to an ethics reform they both supported.
Mr. McMaster has his own flaws, which I’m sure we’ll come to know if the U.S. Senate confirms Gov. Haley as ambassador to the United Nations, but he definitely does not have those two.
Just the opposite: He has a deep and abiding respect for the rule of law, and he has a fundamental appreciation for the necessity of compromise.
It’s hard to disentangle those two qualities, which are at the root of his most distinguishing characteristics of his eight years as South Carolina’s attorney general: political courage and independence and the ability to bring people together to work collaboratively toward creative solutions to difficult problems. When you couple this with his good working relationship with our legislators, it’s hard not to be optimistic about a McMaster administration.
Although as attorney general he sometimes involved our state unnecessarily in federal fights — particularly while he was running for the GOP nomination for governor — he was largely apolitical and impressive on strictly South Carolina matters.
Mr. McMaster probably was the first attorney general who fully appreciated that his job was to defend the constitution, not the government. He went so far as to side with a plaintiff who sued over lawmakers’ dangerous and unconstitutional practice of stringing unrelated matters together in a single bill, even arguing in court against the Legislature’s attorneys. And no, this shouldn’t be extraordinary, but in our legislatively dominated state, it was.
Also extraordinary: staking out a position that put him at odds with the then-popular Republican governor and the primary voters whose support he would need a year later in his quest to succeed that governor. In 2009, Mr. McMaster laid out the legal argument that allowed the Legislature to bypass then-Gov. Mark Sanford’s opposition to accepting federal stimulus funds, and then sent his assistant to court to defend that approach. He did this in spite of the political risks — because he was asked what the law required, he answered as honestly as he could, and he was then sued over the resulting law.
All of that — augmented by his charming, almost childlike belief in the great potential for our state — made him the hands-down choice of our editorial board for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010.
Of course he lost that race to Ms. Haley, but two years later he embarked on another important calling: At Gov. Haley’s request, he and former Democratic Attorney General Travis Medlock assembled a task force that compiled an impressive roadmap for reforming our ethics and campaign finance laws.
It took nearly four years, but this spring the Legislature enacted a lot (not enough, but a lot) of those reforms — owing much more to Mr. McMaster’s efforts than to Gov. Haley’s.
Two years ago, our editorial board endorsed him for lieutenant governor, based on our belief that the only reason to even have a lieutenant governor is to have someone prepared to step in as governor should we ever need that. As it seems that we now, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, will.
As I wrote in that endorsement: “We don’t support all of Mr. McMaster’s positions or agree with all of his priorities. But one thing we’ve learned over the years is that when we’re dealing with mainstream candidates, their specific policy positions are usually less important than their determination to work on our most important problems and their appreciation for the collaborative process that is the foundation of a representative democracy. Mr. McMaster has demonstrated that this is in his DNA.”
Nothing he has done since his election has changed any of that.
Well, he did endorse Donald Trump, back when there was still a chance that someone else could have won the Republican nomination, but I have no reason to believe that reflected a change in his essential nature. But perhaps I should take him up on that offer to get together and explain his thinking to me.
Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.