An Open Letter to Nikki Haley from a Friend
(Note, this letter is NOT designed to advise an experienced campaigner and SC legislator, who knows all of this. Rather it is intended to reinforce her good instincts in dealing with a host of out-of-state advisors. Is there any doubt that her “decision” to back away from Sanford’s Executive Budget was the work of campaign handlers? It was so out-of-character for someone who has staked her political career on her knowledge of business and sound accounting practices. It could be that hubris has overtaken some advisors who may have lost sight of the goal, to wit, to save our State from bankruptcy and already are focusing on the vice-presidency in 2012 – to the detriment of the gubernatorial candidate and to our state.)
The dust-up over the Executive Budget is not just a tempest in a teapot; there are real issues at stake for both the short and long term. Well-done, the Executive Budget is the best bully pulpit you can have to advance your (our) goals.
We hope and expect you will be the next Governor of South Carolina. Like all Governors, you will be held responsible for the fiscal health of your state. Likewise, you will be forced to create budget messages. As an accountant, this is no problem for you. Some Governors prepare more complete budget proposals than others, but ALL lay out their plans in advance, and I know you will do this as well. Governors also try to retain the final say on the budget. The Constitutional reason is this: while legislators represent districts, only the executive (in the budget process) represents the whole state. It is thus the DUTY of the executive to take this responsibility and to do it as thoroughly as possible.
Given the politics of it, I know walking this back might be awkward, but worth it. This is no light campaign issue that can be re-negotiated later. If you stake out this position now, you give up your primary tool as governor. It is for this reason that Mark Sanford weighed in right away on your concession to give up this most valuable tool, and was right to do so.
Students of politics have learned a few things about how statesmen advance their ideas. For example, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton came to the Constitutional Convention with well-thought out plans. It is no surprise that their ideas, for the most part, were implemented into the final document. Being the person with the plan enables a statesman to reach his/her goals. That’s why all governors have to have budget plans and the more thorough, the better.
Mark Sanford’s problems with the legislature were not caused by his Executive Budget per se, but they were aggravated by it, primarily because the budget and its treatment by legislators exposed the fact that most of our representatives were determined to spend every dime possible on their special-interest priorities. What was good for the State was not good for them personally. It also showed the true conservative bent of the Governor. As a result, people still prefer Mark Sanford to the General Assembly; and not just because of his conservative politics, but also because he talks to them, not down to them, and is more accessible. They see him as being on their side. Unfortunately, prior to his election as Governor, he had limited political experience in the State, and made some early mistakes. However, his mistakes were nothing compared with the error of over-spending and not saving for the rainy days that are now upon us. You have the experience to use the same fiscally conservative approach and go further with it than Sanford. But you will have to have an Executive Budget. I am confident you will.
Mark Sanford was like a new professor on an old campus who becomes popular with the students because he puts teaching first, rather than all the other things a professor can do, many of them more fun and less work. Often such professors fail to earn tenure because they make their colleagues look bad by comparison. Similarly, Mark put the state’s fiscal well-being first, and in doing so, made the legislators look bad. They won’t forgive him for that, and neither will they forgive you for doing the same thing with respect to recorded votes. But the legislature is not who is electing you.
Accommodating a fiscally irresponsible legislature will not benefit you or your(our) agenda. In fact, people forget how far Mark and Jenny Sanford went to appease senior members of the General Assembly. For example, Jenny Sanford recounts that when she was the Governor’s Chief of Staff, the couple agreed to allow legislators to meet with him without her presence, since several legislators had objected to her being there. Such an accommodation got the Sanfords exactly nowhere. Stooping to conquer works well some places; the General Assembly is likely not one of them.
Also beware of advice from out-of-state political operatives. They may know how to raise money and make ads, but can’t be as familiar as you are with South Carolina’s truly unique political culture. Follow your own good instincts when it comes to what you know, that is, the people, the programs, and how things work here in South Carolina. You will need an Executive Budget. Don’t unilaterally disarm yourself before you are even elected and give up what will be your strongest tool in the battles ahead.
Christina Jeffrey, Ph.D.