Ultimately, we get the government we deserve. The cynicism with which white people go to the polls and vote Republican in this state is matched only by the cynicism with which those elected Republicans betray the voters who put them in office. The Nikki Haley administration is barely two months old and the pattern is clearly repeating itself.
Mark Sanford was the most recent GOP wonder boy, twice elected governor with overwhelming majorities. He mouthed the Republican platitudes of small government, low taxes, and family values. But as the world now knows, he also had a mistress in Argentina, and he abandoned his office and his state to visit her there in 2009 while lying about his whereabouts and authorizing no one to act for him in case of an emergency.
When the ruse was exposed, both the governor and the state were reduced to punchlines in the national media. Yet the GOP-dominated General Assembly took only the mild measure of censuring him; no serious effort was made to remove him from office. It has been suggested that one reason the solons did not bring impeachment charges against Sanford was that the person in line to replace him was Lt. Gov. André Bauer, an amazingly callow and self-indulgent young man, now remembered primarily for his reckless driving and flying.
But the white people of South Carolina demonstrated that they had learned nothing from the experience. They were ready to elect to the highest offices in the state anyone who recited the GOP mantra of small government and low taxes. And so they elected Republicans down the line, putting GOPers in all nine statewide executive offices and extending the Republican majority to more than 60 percent of the General Assembly. Most significantly to many observers, they turned out 28-year congressional veteran John Spratt from his House District 5 seat, replacing him with a York County real estate developer who had a record of sleazy and questionable dealings. Spratt was chairman of the powerful House Committee on the Budget and one of the most respected members of Congress. But he was a Democrat, and that wasn't good enough for the white folks of South Carolina.
Now, we have Gov. Nikki Haley. Even before she was elected, there were serious questions about her marital fidelity and her business practices. But when Sarah Palin swept into town to anoint her at a rally on the steps of the Statehouse, white people got the message. They gave her the gubernatorial nomination over four male opponents and elected her governor over an appealing and moderate young Democrat. Palin's own ethical and intellectual failings were never an issue for the majority of white voters.
Since taking office, Haley has already found herself in two messy pieces of business. Columbia journalists obtained Haley's application for employment from her last job and tax records from the job prior to that. In applying for the new job at Lexington Medical Center, she claimed to be making $125,000 a year at her old job and expected as much at Lexington Medical. In fact, tax records showed she claimed only $22,000 a year in that previous job.
Was this a crime? No. An impeachable offense? Hardly. But it does say something about her character, and if she was hiding income from the IRS, she might have much bigger problems.
More recently, she removed from the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees Darla Moore, the greatest benefactor in the history of the school, having given $70 million over the years. She replaced Moore with a friend who had donated $4,500 to her gubernatorial campaign. Her only explanation was that she wanted "fresh eyes" on the board.
Again, nothing criminal or impeachable, but the behavior certainly puts Haley's judgment in question. So far the General Assembly has no reason to consider removing her, but if it should, who is standing by to replace her?
Lt. Gov. Ken Ard was elected overwhelmingly last November in the GOP sweep. He brought little experience to the job: two terms on Florence County Council. But he has brought a lot of baggage.
The Associated Press reports that the state Ethics Commission has accused Ard of 106 ethics violations, including using campaign funds to pay personal expenses. Ard has hired an attorney.
His friends and former colleagues in Florence County defend his integrity, saying any shortcomings were errors and oversights, but it should make reasonable people wonder if a man who could not run his campaign for lieutenant governor is ready to run the office of lieutenant governor — or even the office above that.
But the white people of South Carolina are not losing any sleep over this question. They know there is a Republican in office, and that is all they want to know. Any further information would be irrelevant.