Gov. Nikki Haley delivered her first State of the State address last week. There was no surprising news and, in light of the sorry economy, little good news. The subtext of the speech was, "If you liked Mark Sanford, you'll love Nikki Haley."
Of course, the General Assembly did not like Gov. Sanford. The Legislature and Sanford regularly performed a little ritualistic bit of kabuki theater in which the guv would veto dozens of bills at the end of the session. The solons would then override his vetoes in a marathon day under the Statehouse dome. They all played their ritual roles with style and passion, shook hands, and went home.
Don't expect anything like that under Gov. Haley. Judging from their reaction to her speech, the legislators like what they saw. After all, until a couple of weeks ago, she was one of their own. That means a lot in Columbia, even when one of the good ole boys is a girl.
An important idea that Haley floated last week was state government reform. She called for putting some of the hodgepodge of state agencies — presumably the Education Department, S.C. National Guard, the Office of the Treasurer, and probably many others — into the governor's cabinet. The governor would appoint the heads of those agencies, bringing some much-needed coordination and coherence to the executive branch. Nothing wrong with that.
And she would like to have the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket. We've had a couple of recent examples of a Democratic governor serving with a Republican lieutenant governor, or vice versa. That needs to be fixed. Haley also called for taking some of the functions of the state's unique and arcane Budget and Control Board and putting them into a cabinet-level office. But why not put the whole Budget and Control Board in the cabinet? That's where it belongs.
Then came the bad news. We are going to have to cut, cut, and then cut some more to make this budget work, and some of those cuts are going to hurt. When she singled out the Arts Commission and SCETV and ETV Radio, I winced. That's hitting me where I live, but I understand her reasoning.
What I don't understand is her failure to say anything reassuring about education. One of the plans on the table is to cut 10 days off the school year. Can this ignorant, woebegone state really afford to lose 10 days of school each year? It's a question I wish you had addressed, governor. Your silence was ominous.
And what about taxes? Much of our budget crisis stems from our criminally inadequate tax structure. The Tax Realignment Commission studied the problem and came back with a proposal to raise revenues without raising taxes by eliminating scores of exemptions and loopholes from the tax code. Of course, all those exemptions and loopholes were put there by powerful special interests and taking them away would create enemies in high places. And so tax reform got no mention in last week's address.
If there was a surprise, it was the vehemence with which Haley attacked healthcare reform, which was passed by Congress last spring. She related how she met with President Obama and asked him to exempt South Carolina from the law. Not surprisingly, the president declined. If Haley was not aware that the president cannot exempt a state from a federal law, she shows a woeful lack of knowledge regarding the Constitution and the workings of the federal government. If she was aware, yet staged this kabuki with the president, and then bragged about it to the General Assembly and the people of South Carolina, she demonstrated a breathtaking level of cynicism — almost as much as John Boehner showed in bringing to the floor of the U.S. House a bill to repeal healthcare, knowing that it had no chance of passing in the Senate. Yes, this was more Republican kabuki choreographed to appease the teabags of the party.
Also for the Tea Partiers, Haley pledged to stop seeking federal funds for South Carolina. Does she know that for every dollar this state sends to Washington, it receives more than $1.30 in return? Is that ignorance or more kabuki?
Ultimately, Haley's address was a testimony to the failure of state government, as I predict that her entire administration will be. It is a testimony to the failure of one-party rule, which has been the curse of this state for a long, long time. It is a testimony to the futility of white people walking in lockstep to the polls each Election Day and casting their vote for the White People's Party. That is the saddest kabuki of all, and it ultimately means that when Nikki Haley is done with being governor, this poor old state will still be poor and a just little bit older.
Hail to the chief.