Tuesday night marks President Obama’s seventh and final State of the Union address and, for the third year in a row, a Republican woman will deliver her party’s official response: South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Her selection and her recent political maneuvers have created widespread speculation that her speech will be an audition for the vice presidency.
Haley most recently received fawning coverage by the national media for her successful, if begrudging, effort to remove the Confederate flag from the State House following a racially motivated mass shooting.
But the decisions Haley has made as an elected official do not indicate she could retain that widespread approval — in fact, they put her squarely in the far-right wing of her party.
South Carolina Democratic strategist Trav Robertson, who managed Vincent Sheheen’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign against Haley, told ThinkProgress that between the governor’s record and ethical baggage, “she’ll never pass the vetting process.”
While national audiences may be hearing Haley for the first time on Tuesday night, her record of inconsistencies, radical policies, and ethics questions could seriously complicate a quest for higher office.
Real Confederate Flag Record
Robertson cited Haley’s record on the Confederate flag as a prime example of how she “has created this public television persona that completely contradicts her governance.”
Last June, five days after Dylann Roof murdered nine African American worshipers in Charleston, Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag that — by law — flew on State House grounds. It was hailed by some as a “profile in courage.”
But just months before, during her 2014 reelection campaign, she dismissed calls from her opponent, state Sen. Sheheen, to remove the flag. “What I can tell you is over the last three-and-a-half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state,” she said during an October debate. “I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.”
Haley suggested that the state’s historical image as a racist place was over, arguing South Carolina “really kind of fixed all that” by electing her, “the first Indian-American female governor,” and through her appointment of Tim Scott (R), an African American, to a vacant Senate seat.
And even in the immediate aftermath of the Charleston shootings, Haley’s initial response did not advocate removing the flag from the State House grounds. Two days after the shooting, she told CBS anchor Gayle King that while the “conversation” about the flag would “probably come back up again,” it was too early “to start having policy conversations with the people of South Carolina.”
“I understand that’s what y’all want,” she scolded, “[but] my job is to heal the people of this state.” Only after a groundswell of national outrage over the flag did she change her tune in the days that followed.
Refusal To Accept Federal Funds To Help South Carolinians
Thirty states and the District of Columbia have acted to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — including several with Republican governors — but South Carolina is not one of them, thanks to Haley.
Though the law provided that the federal government would pick up 93 percent of the costs for the first nine years, Haley rejected the effort to cover more than 500,000 uninsured South Carolinians. Her reasoning: “We are not going to jam more South Carolinians into a broken program, a program that stifles innovation, discourages personal responsibility, and encourages fraud, abuse and overuse of services — and that, by the way, costs us billions of dollars.”
Haley’s claims that the program would cost South Carolina taxpayers between $1.1 and $2.3 billion were debunked by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid Expansion and the Uninsured. But Haley continues to oppose the program, saying in 2013, “we will not expand Medicaid on President Obama’s watch. We will not expand Medicaid ever.”
The governor’s opposition to using federal funds has permeated other areas as well. As a state legislator, she was one of a small number of lawmakers who backed then-Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R) failed effort to reject $700 million from the 2009 stimulus. She defended her predecessor in her book, Can’t Is Not An Option, writing, “I believed the bill took our state — and our country — in exactly the wrong direction. It mandated more spending instead of less and encouraged us to avoid the difficult but necessary tasks of prioritizing the way we used taxpayers’ money and reigning in government. I supported Governor Sanford in his fight for South Carolina to reject the stimulus funds because I believed the bill took our state — and our country — in exactly the wrong direction.”
Just weeks ago, when farmers from across South Carolina begged Haley to request federal funds to help offset their losses from October’s historic flooding, she refused and suggested farmers should not receive special treatment over other businesses. “What the Farm Bureau has asked for is direct cash payments from the federal government to farmers who chose to be under-insured, something that no other industry in the state is asking for or will be receiving,” a Haley spokeswoman explained.
State Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers, a fellow Republican, has noted that the state’s farmers had no choice in the matter and that even had “every farmer in South Carolina picked the best crop insurance options available at that time, the crop insurance proceeds still would not cover the basic costs.” The South Carolina Farm Bureau denounced Haley’s decision to put “South Carolina’s largest industry in jeopardy.”
Lack Of Concern About Women’s Health
Haley is a strong opponent of abortion rights, tying her “pro-life convictions” to “the fact that she feels the blessings of that value every day knowing that someone chose life” for her husband, who was adopted. This has manifested itself recently in her efforts to shut down the few remaining clinics in South Carolina that perform abortions through enforcement of TRAP regulations.
As a state legislator, she voted in 2007 for a Pre-Abortion Ultrasound Law, even opposing an exemption for victims of rape and incest. She also voted against an amendment that would have required insurance companies to cover those ultrasounds as a “medically necessary procedure.”
Haley vetoed 2012 legislation to encourage middle school students to get vaccinated for HPV. “As a mother of a teenage daughter, Governor Haley, like the majority of South Carolinians, believes that health decisions like this are best left up to parents and doctors — not state government,” her spokesman explained.
In general, Haley does not believe that contraception is a women’s health issue. In 2012, she opined on The View that “women don’t care about contraception.” Instead, she said, it’s “the media” that “wants to talk about contraception.” She added that she and other women “don’t want government to mandate when we have to have it or when we don’t.”
Though Haley has tried to claim the mantle of ethics reform, her own ethics have come under fire. In 2013, she urged lawmakers “to show the people of the world that we don’t have issues in South Carolina, that we are not afraid of ethics reform, and that we’re gonna pass a strong ethics reform bill this year.”
But her mandatory 2012 and 2013 Statements of Economic Interests revealed a dozen people identified as “friend/supporter” provided her with access to their Clemson football suites — a benefit worth more than $58,000 over two years. Among those backers were at least three people whose businesses enjoyed state contracts.
In 2012, the South Carolina House’s ethics committee investigated Haley’s work with an engineering firm called Wilbur Smith Associates and as a fundraiser for the Lexington Medical Center’s nonprofit foundation during her time as a state legislator. The committee ultimately dismissed accusations of illegal lobbying and voting on legislation on which he had a conflict of interest. The Republican attorney who brought the claims against Haley denounced the process as a “farce,” noting that he was not permitted to testify or call witnesses.
Though Haley denied all wrongdoing, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington listed her among its “Worst Governors in America,” alleging that she “has been toeing the ethical line since her days in the state legislature, and brought the same pay-to-play politics to the governor’s mansion.”
Haley’s fierce opposition to federal action to reduce carbon emissions, her signing of an unconstitutional Arizona-style anti-immigration law, her attacks on Black Lives Matter protests, and her long fight to block marriage equality and same-sex unions also put her outside of the national mainstream.
“When they start to do the vetting process, they will see her lapse of judgment,” Robertson said. “She’s a brilliant campaigner, a brilliant politician — but extremely lucky,” he concluded, and while she may be a “darling of the national media, her national persona is not the really Nikki Haley.”