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South Carolina politicians can be mean — envy mixed with hunger, as the state’s financial woes turn simple conflicts into dogfights for scraps.
In July, Haley received a tongue-lashing on the floor of the state Senate from the majority leader (a fellow Republican) over public television budgeting. The dispute was over some rethinking of procedure, but it sounded like plain ol’ pique.
Mostly, Haley is wresting back power for her office, when the balance has long favored the state lawmakers. Haley started a full-on fracas with Darla Moore, a philanthropist whom the governor bounced from the University of South Carolina board. The reason: unreturned phone calls, postponed meetings and a distinct sense that the governor needed to show who worked for whom. To regain the upper hand, Moore offered $5 million for a new building if the state ponied up matching funds. No, thank you, said Haley.
Was the new governor petty to cast aside a key donor? Or was she showing that pay-to-play was no longer the way to gain status or favor in her administration? The naive-or-shrewd debate persists.
Haley has appointed loyalists to other boards, most notably a business development panel that recently approved a plan for Savannah to deepen its port. Haley accepted donations from Georgia lawyers connected to the dispute, and thus cries of cronyism echoed in the Palmetto State, where a rivalry between Charleston and Savannah over Southeast shipping is seen as a fight for the future. Savannah won this round, but Haley said she won environmental protections for the river the states share. And that Charleston needs to compete as a port, not merely undermine its rival.
A fellow Republican, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham, applauded her handling of the port dispute as forward-thinking. Deal, the senator noted, is the operative word: It’s the surname of Haley’s Georgia counterpart, Nathan Deal, and as Capitol Hill earmarking ends, state executives are going to have to wheedle in the way that senators long have.
“She’s had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at her,” Graham said. “And she’s very good at not getting distracted.”