South Carolina's prosperity depends on cooperation, Gov. Nikki Haley said Wednesday in her inaugural speech, a signal the Lexington Republican wants a different relationship with lawmakers than that of her controversial predecessor.
The state's problems - joblessness, budget cuts, education - are too big to be crippled by "partisanship, personalities or distractions," Haley said in becoming South Carolina's first woman and first non-white governor.
"We don't have time for that, and I won't stand for it," Haley said in her inaugural speech, delivered on a windy, near-freezing day. "Our state Constitution requires the governor and the General Assembly to work together to serve South Carolina well. And work together we will."
Lawmakers were ready to accept Haley's challenge, following two terms of near-constant bickering with now-former Gov. Mark Sanford.
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"It struck a really good tone," said state Rep. Rick Quinn, a Lexington County Republican returning for a second stint in the S.C. House. "It's been such a divisive mood. I think that was her major goal" of the speech.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., agreed.
"I believe Gov. Haley has dedicated herself to finding common ground and being optimistic in the face of adversity," Graham said in a statement.
House Speaker Pro Tempore Jay Lucas, R-Darlington, and one of Haley's earliest Statehouse supporters, said that - as a former state representative - the new governor understands the GOP-controlled Legislature better than did fellow Republican Sanford, a former congressman.
"Her speech was full of hope and promise, and I think she did extend an olive branch to the Legislature," Lucas said. "I hope we take it and run with it."
The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley said she wanted all children to feel the same opportunity she had growing up in rural Bamberg. Haley praised her mother, who gave up the chance to become the first woman judge in India, an acknowledgment of her own historic election.
She "was unable to serve on the bench because of the challenges of being a woman in India," Haley said of her mother, Raj. "Now she sits here today watching her daughter become governor of South Carolina, the state she proudly calls her home."
Haley's speech - less than 10 minutes - provided no specifics for how she wants the state to address an $830 million budget shortfall.
Instead, she offered a paragraph-long, broad agenda, saying she wanted to make state government more efficient and reduce spending; improve education opportunities for all children; strengthen small business; and make government more accountable to, and respectful, of state citizens.
"It didn't give a lot of insight into what she is planning," said state Rep. Joe Neal, a Richland County Democrat.
Neal said Haley's tone was uplifting. But, he added, Haley's early mention of modern and historical tea parties set a sour note for an inaugural, which typically move beyond campaign disputes.
"I was surprised she brought up the tea party," Neal said. "I guess that's something she's proud of."
Haley was a favorite among tea party activists, unhappy with national and state leadership.
In her speech, Haley clung to tea party values of less taxes and more freedom, quoting former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who said: "Once we concede that public spending and taxation are (more) than a necessary evil, we have lost sight of the core values of freedom."
At a prayer service earlier in the day, a Greenville pastor asked Haley to remain "real and true" in office to help restore trust in government.
"We've grown cynical," said Pastor Pamela Pond of Greenville's First Presbyterian Church. "We've grown lethargic in fear. We've come to believe we can't trust our government officials."
The Rev. Jeff Kersey, pastor of Mount Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington, where the Haleys attend, urged Haley and others taking office to return to the faith of their ancestors. With conviction, creativity and courage, Kersey said, we can solve the state's problems.
Later in the day, South Carolinians lined up to take a quick walk through the Governor's Mansion. As the Haley's two children napped upstairs, Haley and her husband, new S.C. "first gentleman" Michael Haley, shook hands and posed for photos.
Haley likely will win a major victory on her first full day on office, as the State Budget and Control Board meets this afternoon to choose a new agency director. All five members of the Budget and Control Board said they support Haley's choice of former Department of Insurance director Eleanor Kitzman to head the agency.
Nikki Haley bio
FAMILY: Husband, Michael, full-time federal technician with the South Carolina National Guard and an officer in the Army National Guard; daughter, Rena, 12, and son, Nalin, 9, who attend Lexington County public schools.
CHURCH: Mount Horeb United Methodist, Lexington.
RESIDENCE: From Lexington, born and raised in Bamberg.
OCCUPATION: Accountant, business owner.
EDUCATION: Orangeburg Preparatory Schools, 1989; bachelor of science in accounting from Clemson University, 1994.
PUBLIC OFFICE: Six years in the state House, first elected in 2004, beating the longest-serving state legislator in the Republican primary. She won her final term in 2008 with 83 percent of the vote, the highest of any GOP state lawmaker in a contested race that year.
FACTS: Began doing the books for her family's clothing store at age 13; she is the daughter of Indian immigrants, father, A.S. Randhawa, a former Voorhees College professor, and mother, Raj, a former public school teacher; first got noticed on the state political stage when she fought for roll-call voting in the Legislature.
CONSERVATIVE BADGES: Named "Friend of the Taxpayer" by the S.C. Association of Taxpayers in 2009, "Taxpayer Hero" by Gov. Mark Sanford in 2005, and has lifetime "A" ratings from the South Carolina Club for Growth, the Palmetto Family Council and the National Rifle Association.