South Carolina Governor Bids Farewell

By John Celock

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) focused her final State of the State address on touting her accomplishments and saying goodbye as she prepares for her confirmation hearing to be ambassador to the United Nations.

Speaking to lawmakers in Columbia Wednesday evening, Haley discussed her six years in office, focusing on her record on education, government reorganization, economic development and leading the state through several tragedies. Haley, who has a confirmation hearing next Wednesday, is expected to be confirmed to be the nation’s top diplomat at the U.N. in the Trump administration, later this month.

“When I was first elected, I heard over and again from governors around the country that this would be the best job I would ever have,” Haley said. “I didn’t understand what they meant back then – and if I’m honest, some days, especially during legislative session, I didn’t agree with them. I understand it now.”

Haley discussed how she wanted to focus on changing the state’s image internally and to the rest of the country. She explained one of her first decisions as governor – one that was at first greeted with derision by many – to mandate that all state employees answer the phone by saying “it is a great day in South Carolina, how may I help you.”

In her State of the State, Haley said that the first reason behind the greeting was to have state employees remember that they were working with a resident who had called. She said the other reason went to her decision to work on rebranding South Carolina.

“Second, South Carolina was never the state it was portrayed to be. We are so much more than the punchline of a late night joke,” she said. “We always have been. It was time for the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, to see South Carolina as she truly is – a state of unlimited potential and unrivaled beauty populated by good, faithful, hardworking people.”

Haley said that her focus on economic development was a part of the rebranding. Haley has been known for her aggressive marketing of South Carolina to businesses, including several international trips to promote the state to companies. President-elect Donald Trump has cited her work on business recruitment as part of his decision to name her to the United Nations post.

Haley said that she wanted to bring more companies to the state in an effort to create new jobs and to promote pride in the state. She also said that part of her goal was to break down regional differences in the state and show that a company coming to one part of the state would be a boon for the entire state.

In her State of the State, Haley said that in the last six years the state has seen 85,613 jobs created, along with $21.5 billion in capital investment. She said that the new jobs have been created in each of the state’s 46 counties.

Haley said that her focus on education was part of the same goal, to change the state’s image and to focus on educating children for jobs in the future. She said that she has been able to remake the state’s education funding formula, along with raising reading scores around the state and recruiting new teachers to South Carolina schools.

Haley also discussed her much touted government reorganization plan, where she tried to consolidate more power in the executive branch and with the governor’s office. Among the successes she has had, has been moving more control to the state Department of Administration and away from an independent board of elected officials on such issues as contracts and procurement. She also noted that she was able to shift the adjutant general’s office from being elected to being an appointee of the governor and that starting in the 2018 election, the lieutenant governor will be elected on a ticket with the governor rather than independently.

Haley said that there was more to be done in the area of government organization, including shifting the superintendent of education’s office from being independently elected to being an appointee of the governor.

Haley briefly touched on the challenges she has faced in the governor’s office, including Hurricane Matthew, the deadly shooting at Mother Emanuel Baptist Church in Charleston and the shooting of an unarmed man by a police officer in North Charleston. She said that she was able to see the people of South Carolina come together and work through the tragedies.

While she did not directly mention her 2015 signing of a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the state capital, she touched on the issue.

“I spoke earlier of my dear desire to see the image of South Carolina changed for the better. Standing here tonight, I can say with every confidence that it has happened, that that desire has been fulfilled,” she said. “But not because of me. The people of South Carolina accomplished the highest aspiration I had for our state all on their own. They did it by showing the entire world what love and acceptance looks like. They did it by displaying for all to see the power of faith, of kindness, and of forgiveness. They did it by stepping up to every challenge, through every tragedy, every time.”

Haley, South Carolina’s first woman and first minority governor, was first elected to the post following six years in the state House of Representatives. She has been the nation’s youngest governor for most of her term, ceding the title at the beginning of January to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R).

Haley called her speech a “goodbye for now” and said that her daughter will be in South Carolina attending college and that while she, her husband and her son will be living in New York, they will be back.

“Don’t forget about us,” she said. “We’re not going far. And we’re already looking forward to coming home to this state we love so deeply.”