Her penchant for calling people out is one reason for her shaky relationship with the General Assembly. During her first term in office, Haley issued report cards for lawmakers, which publicly shamed those who didn’t vote her way. Her Facebook resembles a burn book, studded with posts firing back at individual lawmakers, or posts that simply list the names of those who disappointed her by their votes.
“Don’t forget their names and let them know you expect them to reverse course,” she wrote in one such entry Feb. 12. “No excuses.”
Tensions peaked again last week, when she gave her fellow Republican lawmakers a public spanking at the South Carolina GOP convention.
At a moment when South Carolina is preparing for an onslaught of 2016 attention, on a stage in front of the most important officials and donors in the state — and five presidential hopefuls — Haley devoted her 17-minute speech on May 2 to her ongoing tussle with Republicans in the General Assembly.
“Something’s gone terribly wrong,” she told the crowd, before launching into a tirade:
We should be really proud right now, because out of 170 members in the house and senate, 105 are Republicans.But in a time when presidential candidates are going to be coming through South Carolina, how do we hold our head up, when all year I’ve been fighting my own Republicans? I’m been fighting my own people.These are the people who are supposed to be with me. These are the people who are supposed to be moving South Carolina forward.
Haley was concerned with four bills — bumping up salaries for lawmakers (she doesn’t like that); issuing $500 million in bonds (no); a transportation bill increasing the gas tax (it’s complicated); and an ethics reform bill (a key issue for her, which died in the Senate).
Out of the 105 Republicans, she said, only 17 voted her way on all the issues.
“Where’s my army?” she asked. “Where’s my people that help me fight?”
Then, one by one, Haley thanked each of the 17 state senators and representatives who stood with her. She had them stand up as their names were called. She told the entire convention to clap for them.
Haley later put up the list of people in her “army” on Facebook. On Thursday, Haley converted her personal Web site into a wall of shame, displaying how each lawmaker voted on the four bills.
Transparency in government, of course, is one of Haley’s signature legislative achievements. In 2011, she pushed though a bill requiring the House and Senate to take on-the-record votes. Ever since, Haley has highlighted voting records. It’s one way to bring lawmakers to heel.
“When she sees something going wrong, she gets loud about it,” Haley press secretary Chaney Adams said in a statement. “This is exactly what she has been doing for years.”
The practice has won her few friends in her own party — not that she had many to begin with. When Haley first become governor 2010, she was a Tea Party underdog running on government accountability. During her first term, she clashed ferociously with House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R) in particular.
In October, Harrell stepped down in an ethics scandal involving improper use of campaign funds. Haley counted the new speaker, Jay Lucas, as a longtime friend. Meanwhile, she had developed a markedly better relationship with the General Assembly while on the campaign trail.
So after Haley’s reelection last fall, her GOP colleagues had reason to hope that her second term would involve less condemnation and more collaboration.
That hasn’t really happened.
Haley’s way on the highways
By all accounts, the roads in South Carolina are dismal. In November, the chairman of Michelin North America, which has several plants in South Carolina, called the state’s roads a “disgrace.” He threatened to reconsider expanding in South Carolina.
So one of Haley’s legislative priorities going into her new term was a roads bill. The house had already appointed a committee of lawmakers to look at the issue. Rep. Gary Simrill (R), the committee chair, said they reached out and conferred several times with Haley’s administration.
Despite their efforts to collaborate, they were all taken by surprise when Haley announced the specifics of her own her own roads plan in January.
On the campaign trail, Haley had promised to veto any gas tax increase. During her State of the State address in January, she backtracked on that pledge. She said she would accept a 10 cent gas tax increase, as long as the income tax was slashed from 7 percent to 5 percent over the next decade. This plan won plaudits from anti-tax czar Grover Norquist.
But few in her party saw wisdom in such a drastic cut. Republican lawmakers said the state could not afford it, even as Haley claimed that economic growth would eventually make up for the lost revenue.
In April, the house voted 87-20 — a veto-proof margin — to raise the gas tax without Haley’s reductions to the income tax. (As a gesture they threw in a small $48 tax rebate for households.)
While that bill was advancing through committee hearings, Haley made her displeasure known to constituents.
“Because I know many of you are going to the Statehouse, which I love, just make sure you take a good shower when you leave,” Haley told a group of realtors in March. She added, later: “Legislators don’t remember what it means to truly live day to day.”
Speaker Lucas responded with a speech on the House floor the next day. He called her remarks “middle school insults that serve no purpose but to poison the well.”
“She’s not real negotiable.”
The dream of cooperation was already fading by the time Haley aired her grievances at the South Carolina GOP convention last week.
Speaker Pro Tempore Tommy Pope (R) was excluded from Haley’s special 17 because he voted for the roads bill. He said that Haley should have been working more closely with the legislature on roads funding instead of pointing fingers and issuing ultimatums.
“Leadership is not just calling people out, but bringing those folks together to do what’s best for the people you serve,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s not happening.”
Last week, Pope subtweeted a Bible verse: “An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels.”
Or take it from Haley’s perspective. She was reelected in a landslide last year. Doesn’t that popular mandate buy her more cooperation from her fellow party members? “She’s doing what she ran on and won basically two elections with,” said former South Carolina GOP chair Katon Dawson. “She’s not real negotiable.”
Haley’s public lists and Facebook posts are aimed squarely at constituents. If she cannot win over lawmakers this session, she can at least put pressure on them through direct appeals to people in their hometowns.
“She considers herself to be a voice of the people,” said Eric Bedingfield (R), who Haley named as one of her 17.
At the convention last week, Haley told the crowd to call and e-mail their representatives. “I need you to remind them what it means to be Republican,” she said.
She added, ominously: “If they don’t represent you, it is time for us to find someone else.”
Haley’s people say that voting histories are already in the public record. “Her view is simply that Republican voters deserve to know what their Republican legislators are doing,” Adams, her press secretary, said in a statement. “Legislators have every opportunity to defend their votes for pay raises, higher taxes, and more debt.”
This is, of course, an ungenerous way to frame these issues. It’s why lawmakers hate lists and report cards in the first place. They head off debate.
State Sen. Katrina Shealy (R), for instance, was left off the list of the special 17 because she had voted for the legislative pay increase last year.
South Carolina lawmakers make $10,400 a year, and get another $12,000 for expenses, which is on the low end for the nation. Shealy said she voted to bump pay by $12,000 in order to attract more diverse politicians.
“We need to increase the salary so you don’t have to have all lawyers or rich old people,” she said.
Will Haley’s hardball tactics backfire?
Lawmakers, Shealy added, will never move in lockstep with each other, or with the governor. It’s hard for people to work together if they are holding grudges over votes from over a year ago. “I feel like singing that song from “Frozen” — ‘let it go, let it go!'” she said. “But we can’t let it go.”
Haley’s remarks last week about her “army” have become something of a punchline among lawmakers, Shealy said. “It’s a big joke in the Senate: ‘Are you in the army? Is this vote going to get you kicked out of the army?'”
That’s an example of how the mood has soured in the legislature, and a warning sign. Haley’s predecessor, Mark Sanford, also had a contentious relationship with his legislature. In 2004, he carried two squealing piglets into the State House for a news conference about excessive spending in the budget. The piglets, who he called “pork” and “barrel,” defecated on the floor.
“This about tears it with the General Assembly,” Francis Marion University political scientist Neal Thigpen told The State at the time. “There’s no going back. They don’t like being embarrassed.”
Since the state GOP convention, lawmakers wondered if the next three years under Haley will be equally mucky. “All of a sudden, it’s back to the old Mark Sanford days,” House Ways and Means Committee chairman Brian White told The State last week.
Haley has always maintained that politics is not personal for her, and that she never means for her remarks to be taken that way. She is simply outspoken about the issues she cares about, loath to compromise, and fierce when she needs to be. Her critics in the legislature invariably compliment her stubbornness, even when they think it veers into poor governance — even when they think she is grandstanding for national attention.
These are qualities that constituents love in their politicians. These are qualities that play well on the public stage. But these are also qualities that, left untempered, threaten Haley’s ability to get any of her laws passed.
You can blame South Carolina’s politicians for being thin-skinned, but that will not stop them from striking down the governor’s vetoes and amendments, as they did many times over with Sanford.
“The thing that concerns me is that there is a growing sentiment that she is irrelevant,” said state Sen. Shane Massey (R), who is one of Haley’s special 17. (He emphasized that he doesn’t agree that she’s irrelevant.)
Massey considers himself to be on good terms with Haley. But he remembers the year she came out with report cards for every lawmaker. He got a B for overriding some of her budget vetoes. “I think it plays very well in the public,” he said. “It’s easy to beat up on the General Assembly.”
For now he dwells on her good side, but he knows that might change by the next vote. He’s okay with that. This is his job.
“The good Lord gave me my own brain, and I’m going to use it,” he said. “I joke that I have this nasty habit of thinking for myself.”