Gov. Nikki Haley's administration knew that to tackle a $700 million budget shortfall the state faced, starting July 1, it was going to have to cut payments to politically influential doctors and hospitals.
The question was: How to do it?
Haley and her team concluded they needed the help of the Legislature, enlisting Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, a Republican who represents part of York County. .
Peeler sat down with Haley and Department of Health and Human Services director Tony Keck, who convinced Peeler that cutting rates was the best - and really only - option to reduce the state's cost to provide health insurance to the poor and disabled.
The political obstacles might have - and did - stymie other governors. But Haley made it work, putting in the work on the front end with key legislative leaders to win support, according to her schedule and lawmakers.
"That was a tough call, and she made it," Peeler said.
It was Haley at her best - problem identified, issue worked, solution delivered.
Cutting Medicaid payments was one of Haley's most significant policy victories during her first 100 days in office - marked Thursday - and is one of a handful of items on her first-year wish list that the governor likely will be able to check off.
But not every moment of Haley's first 100 days has been so smooth.
Lawmakers and observers say Haley has been largely successful in repairing the relationship between the executive and legislative branch following eight years of bickering between lawmakers and former Gov. Mark Sanford. Haley has been open about her expectations, they say, and legislators have delivered - or are working to - on her campaign promises, including recording more legislative votes and restructuring state government.
But those same folks also say Haley has committed inexplicable, unforced political errors - such as the way she replaced Darla Moore on the University of South Carolina's Board of Trustees, her response to complaints about the lack of diversity in her Cabinet and other appointments, and the hiring of the wife of her chief of staff by a Cabinet agency.
More partisan critics say Haley has run her office like a political campaign - failing to transition, in either staffing or philosophy, to governing - and has been vindictive toward those who disagree with her, including some fellow Republicans.
Haley has provided hints about her focus post-100 days, most notably recruiting jobs to lower the state's high jobless rate. She also has said she will propose cuts to the benefits of state employees and is working on a comprehensive tax reform plan, but she provided few specifics.
A focus on issues
Haley has declined interview requests with The State since she was elected. Her press office did not respond to questions about her first 100 days in office.
"To the credit of the Legislature, they are showing a willingness of trying to get things done," Haley told The Associated Press, discussing her first 100 days. "What I've told them is the days of talk are over; the days of results are just beginning."
In an interview with The (Charleston) Post and Courier, Haley dismissed critics as "haters," arguing she is focused instead on issues that matter to the public.
Among her accomplishments:
Cutting Medicaid rates. The state had little other choice, but Haley did the hard work necessary to convince lawmakers. The proposed House and Senate budgets would cut payments to doctors and hospitals by $125 million in the state's fiscal year that starts July 1. Still, doctors, hospitals and lawmakers - both Republican and Democrat - worry rural hospitals may close, health care workers may lose jobs and patients may have fewer providers from which to choose.
Restructuring. The bill to create a state Department of Administration, working its way through the Legislature, is a half-measure. It does not eliminate the Budget and Control Board, the sprawling state agency that oversees much of the maintenance and day-to-day operations of state government. But, before she was even inaugurated, Haley persuaded powerful Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, to support the effort, now heading to the Senate floor. Haley's strategy is to take what she can get this year, creating the new, added state agency, and refine it in coming years, until she has what she wants. Likewise, constitutional amendments allowing gubernatorial candidates to pick their lieutenant governor running mates and the governor to appoint the state secretary of education are closer to becoming law than under Sanford.
Campaign promises: Haley signed her signature issue, roll-call voting, into law earlier this month. Other issues, such as efforts to further insulate businesses from large losses from lawsuits, are in the pipeline and may pass. However, some items - such as more income disclosure for elected officials, an issue that might be problematic for the governor in particular - have gone nowhere.
Talbert Black, with the S.C. Campaign for Liberty, thinks Haley so far has delivered on her promises, citing the roll-call voting bill, in particular. Black also praises Haley's vocal opposition to the new federal health care law.
"Her intentions are good," Black said.
Haley also has won praise for some of her most high-profile Cabinet picks - most notably Keck and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt.
Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said Haley's appointments to state boards also show she is trying to make the most of the governor's constitutionally limited power.
"She is getting her vision into places where the governor otherwise has no authority," Huffmon said of Haley's move to sweep out the former S.C. Educational Television board and others.
The moves show that Haley ideologically is in sync with predecessor and mentor Sanford, Huffmon said. But, he adds, Haley has been more successful because she is more practical.
Huffmon and others say Haley learned from Sanford's mistakes, such as trying to do too much at once and insisting on his version of reform, threatening to embarrass opponents politically if they disagreed.
"There is a difference between campaigning and governing," said state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley. "She is doing a good job learning how to govern."
'A lot of hostility'
But Democrats - and, privately, some Republicans as well - say Haley can be vindictive with those who oppose her.
"The issue is: If you disagree with Nikki, you're punished," said state Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland.
For instance, Howard said, legislators who opposed the Department of Administration bill - many of whom argued the bill did nothing but create more bureaucrats - were not invited to a reception that Haley hosted at the Governor's Mansion.
"That's childish," Howard said. "There's a lot of tension and a lot of hostility."
Howard and members of the Legislative Black Caucus also have criticized Haley for the lack of diversity, particularly African-Americans, among her nominees for Cabinet and state board posts. Haley has one black Cabinet member, who heads an agency that Haley wants to abolish, and replaced the sole black board member of the Medical University of South Carolina's board.
Democrats, perhaps, can be expected to complain about a Republican governor. But some Republicans too say Haley can be brutal to those who fail to agree with her or displease her.
Observers agree Haley's biggest misstep, thus far, was the way she replaced Moore on the USC board. Lawmakers almost universally agree it was Haley's prerogative to appoint a new board member. But, they add, Moore deserved better, in deference to the $80 million she has pledged to the school and Clemson.
"It seemed like it was done without any care or feel or acknowledgement of the work they had contributed," College of Charleston political scientist Jeri Cabot said of Haley's clean sweep of several state boards. "It was heavy-handed."
Emails show the firestorm that Moore's removal created caught Haley and her staff off guard. Those communications also provided no evidence to support Haley's claim that Moore had invited removal by failing to return the governor's calls for weeks. Instead, the communications show that Haley had decided to replace Moore with a campaign contributor weeks before setting up a meeting with USC's largest single benefactor ever.
A problem with credibility
Long term, questions about Haley's credibility - rekindled by the Moore debacle - could prove the most damaging to the freshman governor.
During the campaign, Haley denied allegations that she had affairs, denials that helped win her election.
However, she has continued to be dogged by lingering issues about her truthfulness, including a Lexington Medical Center job application that claimed a salary in her previous job that was five times higher than the income she reported earning on her taxes. Haley said she did not fill out the salary information, though the application contained her Social Security number, job history, past supervisors, references and other personal information.
And though she claimed she would root out the good ol' boys in Columbia, critics note the wife of Haley's chief of staff was hired for an unadvertised job at a Cabinet agency and the governor gave large raises to her former campaign aides when she hired them for her executive staff.
Those missteps have allowed legislative Democrats to keep up their fall campaign mantra that Haley cannot be trusted.
Like President Barack Obama and many other politicians, Winthrop's Huffmon says Haley has maintained a campaign-like approach toward governing.
Haley's team already has checked off a number of items on an end-of-session report card within the governor's office and is likely to register more victories by June. Haley has explicitly mentioned some future goals - helping create more jobs - while mentioning others only in passing, not elaborating.
For example, Haley also said she will propose cuts to the health care and retirement benefits of state employees but has yet to elaborate, a move that could alienate thousands of voters and their families. She also has promised a comprehensive tax-reform plan during a recent town-hall tour.
Managed poorly, those issues could become political landmines.
Even economic-development efforts to create jobs can become controversial.
For example, the governor has said she will not get involved in a dispute over a sales tax exemption for a planned 1,200-job Lexington County distribution center for Amazon.com. Haley has said she disagrees with the incentive but will allow it to become law if the legislature sends it to her desk.
That position pleases few.
Lawmakers want Haley to bless the deal, giving them political cover.
Economic development officials say failure to pass the deal could jeopardize the state's credibility with companies looking to come to South Carolina or expand here.
However, Black and other Tea Party activists want her to oppose the bill. "If she's against it, she needs to stand up and say so."