To bandy word for word and frown for frown; But now I see our lances are but straws, Our strength as weak, our weakness past compare, That seeming to be most which we indeed least are. —William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew
Say what you will about Nikki Haley, but she has chutzpah. A year ago, she was a backbench, second-term state representative, who was rarely heard of outside her Lexington County district. But somebody whispered in her ear that she could be governor, so she threw her proverbial hat into the ring, defeated three overwhelmingly favored political veterans in the GOP primary, and went on to defeat an appealing and much more qualified Democrat in the general election.
Now Gov. Nikki Haley has outdone herself.
At the end of the legislative session two weeks ago, the senators and representatives headed for the doors, but the governor said, in effect, "Not so fast, boys." She called them back into session, sparking a firestorm of politics and personalities not seen since Gov. Mark Sanford brought a couple of pigs into the Statehouse in 2005 to make a point about pork-barrel legislation.
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To be sure, the General Assembly left a lot of unfinished business, most importantly her government reform plan that would either reduce or eliminate the state Budget and Control Board, depending on which bill gets to her desk. In its place would be the new Department of Administration, which would be placed in the governor's cabinet.
The Budget and Control Board is an archaic and unaccountable vestige of another day, a unique institution among the 50 states. Part legislative and part executive function, the board handles much of the day-to-day business of running the state. It should be put out of its misery, and its functions turned over to the chief executive.
The Legislature was scheduled to reconvene later in June to wrap up the $6 billion budget and other bits of business, but in calling them back to Columbia the week after the end of the session, the brash new governor seems to have hit a nerve.
To be sure, she also had some admirers and supporters. House Speaker Bobby Harrell (R-Charleston) said he would bring his chamber back to session. But over in the Senate, things were not so simple. Haley's order flew in the face of the most powerful man in state government, the speaker pro tempore of the Senate, the writer of tax law, the protector of the Confederate submarine, the champion of secession, the re-enactor of past glories and defeats. I speak, of course, of that inimitable Charlestonian and Republican, Glenn McConnell.
So incensed was McConnell at the governor's assertion of executive authority that he took the extraordinary step of filing suit in the state Supreme Court, challenging her power to convene the General Assembly. While House members prepared to return to Columbia and Republican activists publicly asked their senators to do the same, while newspapers editorialized that the Legislature should follow Haley's admonition and finish the work in front of it, while state Attorney General Alan Wilson affirmed that Haley did in fact have the authority to convene the Legislature, McConnell moved ahead in his effort to have the Supremes issue a summary judgment against the governor.
To the surprise of many, including your humble correspondent, he succeeded. The Supreme Court came back on June 7 with the decision McConnell sought. The question for many of us is why McConnell was so singleminded in his determination to block Haley. He demonstrated no such belligerence and intransigence when Gov. Jim Hodges called the Legislature back into session in 1999. And Hodges was a Democrat! If he was merely upholding a principle of the state constitution, get him to explain how he bent said constitution like a pretzel to procure the millions of dollars for the preservation of that damned Confederate submarine.
No, I think this was about something much more subtle than politics or even personalities. This was about the king of the good ol' boys defending his power and prerogatives against the encroachment of a woman who didn't know her place. McConnell would have challenged her eventually on some issue. But what could be more visceral or straightforward than the question of who has the authority to call the Legislature into session?
This is not necessarily to defend Nikki Haley. With the removal of Darla Moore from the University of South Carolina board of trustees, she demonstrated a reckless use of power in her own right. Indeed, one observer has called the Haley-McConnell contretemps an example of dueling arrogance.
And at the end of the day, neither Haley nor McConnell has addressed our decrepit, inadequate tax code, our failed and underfunded school system, our collapsing infrastructure, and a hundred other problems that plague this state. But at least we know who has the biggest cojones in Columbia.