Latest News

SC Gov. Haley: 'I sleep, eat and breathe jobs every day'

No, Gov. Nikki Haley does not think she has a credibility issue -- although she thinks the media want to make one for her.

Yes, there have been some disappointments and surprises during her first year in office -- especially the public reaction to her kicking wealthy financier Darla Moore off the USC board.

No, she says she did not know her staff was deleting emails, but she says she has moved to fix that.

And, yes, she is still angry that lawmakers forced her staff members to testify under oath about a controversial ports deal. They never did that to former Gov. Mark Sanford's staffers after he secretly disappeared from the state, she says.

Those are some of the highlights from a year-end interview by The State with Haley, South Carolina's first female and first minority -- she's Indian-American -- governor.

Overall, the Lexington Republican says she is proud of her first year in office. Haley says she accomplished much for the people of the state, including requiring lawmakers to cast more votes on the record, bringing jobs to the some of the state's poorest counties and slashing Medicaid costs.

And she has big plans for her second year in office -- a jobs-training program for the unemployed, an overhaul of the tax system and a state budget that doesn't spend more but still boosts spending on law enforcement, mental health and health coverage for low-income children.

Getting it done?

The State newspaper sat down Thursday with Haley to review her first year on the job.

Haley ticked off what she saw as her top accomplishments.

First up, signing into law a proposal to require lawmakers to cast more votes on the record.

Haley campaigned on the issue, winning support from the tea party movement and catapulting her from a no-name House member in last place to the state's first female governor, beating out three well-known, better-funded men in the state's GOP primary. She went on to narrowly defeat Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden in November's general election.

Haley turned her signature more-on-the-record-voting issue into a reality in April.

"That was such a long fight," Haley said, sitting on the couch in her office. "But we got it done."

Critics were not impressed, contending out that anyone could have figured out how their lawmakers voted anyway. Both the state House and Senate had passed rules prior to the new law, requiring more on-the-record votes.

Haley is unfazed by the critics.

Other big victories, she says, included:

Passing tort reform. Haley and sometimes fellow-Republican allies passed caps on punitive damages in July. "When we're recruiting companies, to now say we have caps on frivolous lawsuits is a great thing."

Critics say the legislation made it even more difficult for workers or consumers to protect themselves from the negligence of Big Business.

Passing illegal-immigration reform and Voter ID laws. Haley signed into law two controversial bills now being challenged in court. The immigration bill requires police to check the immigration status of drivers and others they stop. The Voter ID law requires voters to present a driver's license or another form of approved ID at the polls.

Critics say the immigration law is unconstitutional, a classic case of South Carolina not recognizing it is part of a republic. The voter ID law, they say, discriminates against minorities, students and the elderly who are less likely to have proper identification.

Passing Medicaid reform. In April, Haley and Tony Keck, director of the state's Medicaid agency, signed off on cutting Medicaid reimbursement rates to doctors and other health providers.

"So much of our budget is Medicaid," Haley said Thursday. "Being able to get that Medicaid reform to where we could negotiate rates with providers, that is something that, going forward, is probably one of the biggest moves in terms of really taking control of our health-care situation and being able to plan, and not have it control us."

Critics say that while the move saved money, it punishes doctors and hospitals while putting off a final day of reckoning for spiraling health-care costs.

Finding a sponsor for The Heritage golf tournament. In June, RBC agreed to pay millions to become the title sponsor of the PGA event. To Haley, the victory made more of a point about government spending, than preserving a sporting event. Hilton Head-area pols had advocated a local tax, if necessary, to finance the tournament.

"Now we have a great sponsor for five years and showed we don't have to always go to government to fix our problems," Haley said.

Haley said she was an effective advocate for Boeing, when the company was threatened with a lawsuit by the National Labor Relations Board because the plane-maker set up shop in North Charleston. Last week, that lawsuit was dropped after Boeing and its unionized employees penned a four-year contract extension that includes pay raises.

Haley takes partial credit for the lawsuit being dropped. "No one knew who the NLRB was a year and a half ago. And now they'll never forget," she said. "They're going to think twice before they file any frivolous lawsuit against any company. That was a huge win not just for Boeing, not for South Carolina, but for the country.

"Anyone that ever attacks any of our businesses in South Carolina, it is my job to let everyone know about it so it doesn't happen to another business," she added.

Critics say South Carolina and its politicians, including Haley, were used, reduced to playing the role of pawns in a sideshow to the dispute.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

Haley takes credit for the creation of 20,000 jobs in South Carolina, where the 10.5 percent jobless rate is above the national average.

Some of the big announcements on her watch include: Continental Tire opening a plant in Sumter County, Bridgestone Americas' expansion in Aiken County and Nephron Pharmaceutical locating a new plant near Cayce.

"I sleep, eat and breathe jobs every day," Haley said. "To be able to say that we are now a state that has three of the four major tire manufacturers in the world, right here in South Carolina. That we build planes; we build cars; we make tires; we make medicine now with Nephron. We make things in South Carolina at a time when other states are suffering. We are in all of the necessary industries we need to be that are growing, that are in the black, that are all doing well."

While critics downplay Haley's role in those deals, she says it is important to look where the jobs are going -- low-income, rural S.C.

"It's not just about bringing the jobs, it's where you put them," Haley said. "So the biggest accomplishment is, yes, we've announced 20,000 jobs, but look where at where they're going. They're going to Denmark. They're going to Clarendon. They're going to Laurens. They're going to Jasper. They're going to Orangeburg, where we've got such a high unemployment rate. When we can actually go to those areas, that's when we know we're doing great things."

Haley did not bring the jobs here on her own -- some of the deals date to courtships started during the Sanford administration and some involve big incentives from the state.

In September, Haley admitted she could not back up her oft-repeated claim that half of job applicants at the Savannah River Site nuclear facility failed drug tests and half of the remainder couldn't pass reading and writing tests.

Haley said she was told the figure by an SRS official. It was later determined that less than 1 percent of the site's workers fail drug tests.

Haley, who often included the story in speeches to make a case for tying drug tests to unemployment benefits, since has stopped using the figures.

It wasn't the first time she misspoke. This summer, Haley overstated the number of jobs created in the state. Haley blamed the Department of Commerce for providing bad data.

The Darla Moore drama

But Haley doesn't like to talk about mistakes.

Instead, she prefers to talk about disappointments and surprises during her first year as governor.

For example, Haley said she was caught off guard by reaction to her March decision to replace USC board member Darla Moore, who has pledged or donated $75 million to USC, with a donor to her own political campaign.

"The Darla Moore issue, the only thing I can tell you, was not realizing the scope of that," Haley said. "But my intention was when you put people on boards, you put people on boards that think like you. You put people on boards who have the same philosophical views as you do."

"I have great respect for Darla Moore, but we don't see the same things. We don't think the same things," Haley said. "You can't have a major investor and donor in a university sit on a board because everyone is going to be too scared to oppose her. And so it was never really a personal decision. If you look at all the boards, we tried to freshen them all up."

Haley said she doesn't regret the decision to sack Moore, USC's largest benefactor ever.

And while Moore has said little on the subject, she made her point too, giving $5 million more to the university for an aerospace research center, a project Haley opposed state funding for.

Political ports

Haley also may have underestimated the public reaction when members of the state environmental board, all of whom she appointed in the spring, approved a controversial permit that cleared the way for the expansion of the Savannah port.

At the request of Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, Haley asked the board's chairman to hear Georgia make their case. Haley repeatedly has said she only asked that the board hear the case -- not approve the permit.

And she has denied claims that she benefited politically from the deal, despite collecting $15,000 in campaign contributions in Georgia just before the pro-Georgia decision.

But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle -- along with environmentalists and the business community -- have blasted the decision, saying it gives Georgia a competitive advantage over the Charleston port and a yet-to-be-developed S.C. port in Jasper County.

"All (Gov. Deal) did was ask my board to do their job," Haley said. "So, out of respect, I honored that, as any Republican or Democrat governor would do for me. There is a great respect we have among governors. Maintaining that respect isn't about a political decision. It's about thinking long term about what are all the things we're going to need from Georgia."

The decision has left Haley short on allies -- with only Georgia officials and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., publicly coming to her defense. Graham has said states with ports must work together to get federal money for their harbor-deepening projects. "At the federal level, we're either going to rise together or die together," Graham said.

Two lawsuits are in the works to stop the permit from being granted. Some lawmakers also are working to stop the permit.

Increasingly, Haley and lawmakers are at odds -- a scene familiar from Haley's predecessor, Gov. Mark Sanford, whose tenure often was marred by legislative deadlocks.

Haley and the General Assembly have fought over the port decision, funding for ETV and state incentives to lure Amazon to Lexington County. Haley's report cards, which gave failing grades to nearly all Democrats and some Republicans who opposed her proposals, didn't make her any friends either.

Senators on the panel have fired back that the ports decision will affect the state for years to come and it was essential to get to the bottom of how the decision was reached.

Transparency governor

As a candidate, Haley promised to make government more accessible, accountable and transparent.

She does release her schedule to the public as well as her flight log and hold town-hall meetings. But The State and other media outlets have found that Haley's office routinely deletes interoffice emails, effectively making secret the logic behind some state decisions.

Media attorneys say the policy violates the state's open records law; historians worry important documents that could help piece together the state's history are being lost.

Haley defended the practice as legal but said Thursday she is willing to consider retaining more emails and other public records.

Whether it's bad press or bad decisions, Haley's poll numbers are down. A recent Winthrop University poll, which the S.C. Republican party has questioned, put Haley's favorability rating among South Carolinians at 34.6 percent, behind even President Barack Obama's.

Haley said she does not pay attention to the polls. She doesn't pay attention to the press. And she denies a credibility problem.

"I think the media wants there to be a credibility issue," she said.

Next year

Haley is focusing on her 2012 agenda, which includes a jobs-training program for the unemployed and overhauling the state's tax code. Haley would like to see a reduction in the number of state income tax brackets, a phasing out the corporate income tax to encourage new businesses to locate in the state and a reduction the state's manufacturing tax, now officially 10.5 percent but often reduced by negotiated fee-in-lieu agreements.

Haley also hopes to cap state spending.

"We know we're going to have additional revenue this year. We don't need to spend it," she said, suggesting some areas of the budget will be cut while others will grow.

Haley also is backing a recommendation by Tony Keck, the head of the state's Medicaid agency, to provide $29 million more in state money to provide health-care coverage for about 78,000 low-income S.C. children. The children already are eligible for the state-run health insurance program. Their families earn too much to be on Medicaid but not enough to provide health insurance for their children.

"We're planning ahead. We're planning for the future," Haley said.

Haley's impact

A look at what Gov. Nikki Haley says are her accomplishments during her first year in office:

Requiring lawmakers to cast more votes on the record.

Tort reform. Haley and Republican allies passed caps on punitive damages in July.

Illegal-immigration reform and Voter ID laws. Haley signed into law two controversial bills that now are being challenged in court. The immigration bill requires police to check the immigration status of drivers and others they come in contact with. The Voter ID law requires voters to present a driver's license or another form of approved ID at the polls.

Medicaid reform. In April, Haley agreed to cut Medicaid reimbursement rates to doctors and other health providers.

Landing a sponsor for the Heritage golf tournament. In June, RBC agreed to pay millions to become the title sponsor.

Haley said she stood up for South Carolina and Boeing, when the company was sued by the National Labor Relations Board because the plane-maker set up shop in North Charleston. Last week, the lawsuit was dropped after Boeing and union members penned a four-year contract extension that includes pay raises.

Agenda for 2012

Creating a new jobs-training program for the unemployed.

Overhauling the state's tax code, including reducing the number of state income tax brackets, phasing out the corporate income tax and reducing the manufacturing tax.

Passing a state budget that does not spend "new" state revenue, generated by the improving economy. Haley's budget proposal will include more money for the Department of Mental Health, law enforcement and a state-run health insurance program for poor children.

Controversies

A Haley-appointed environmental board approved a permit that clears the way for a Savannah port expansion project. Critics say the project undermines the Charleston port, which competes with Savannah.

Haley removed wealthy financier Darla Moore from the USC board, angering students and others who say Moore has done much to benefit the university. Haley said Moore intimidated other board members.

Haley and lawmakers have butted heads over several items, including funding for ETV. Lawmakers say Haley reneged on a funding plan that she originally agreed to back.

Haley took some ribbing for requiring state workers to answer the phones by saying, "It's a great day in South Carolina. How may I help you?" Haley said the greeting, while goofy, is to remind state workers that they work for the person on the other end of the phone and help her sell the state.

Haley has made several misstatements, including claiming that half of job applicants at the Savannah River Site failed drug tests and half of the remainder couldn't pass reading and writing tests. Haley said she was told the figure by an SRS official. It later was determined that less than 1 percent of the site's workers fail drug tests.

  Comments