November 2011

It's A Great Day In South Carolina: Governor Haley Speaks Out

Author: Courtney Hampson

Music filled the auditorium. The play list included: Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer,” Europe’s “Final Countdown,” U2’s “Beautiful Day, ” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town,” Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” and finally Van Halen’s “Right Now.”

The music told a story of a longshot candidate, who makes it to a runoff election, who wins against all odds, who embraces her small town roots and the opportunities afforded to her and her immigrant parents in the United States. The story ends with the realization of the work at hand and the need to get it done.

“It’s a great day in South Carolina,” Governor Nikki Haley exclaimed with enthusiasm, as she took the stage at one of her recent town hall meetings. She went on to explain why you will now hear this greeting anytime you call a state office or agency. Haley’s approach as chief executive of the state is similar to that of a CEO of a corporation. “It’s about customer service,” she said. “Customer service is a major focus in the private sector, why not the public sector? The media initially made a mockery of the new greeting,” she said with a smile, “They missed the second part: ‘It’s a great day in South Carolina, how may I help you?’”
Let there be no question, Haley believes that she and her entire staff, meaning every state employee, work for the people. You are the customer.

This is a new approach for our state government after years of the “old guard” making political decisions based on who could get them the best football tickets. Oh yes, I kid you not. Haley called out the “old guard” and their penchant for providing higher education funding to the schools that doled out the best seats in the college stadiums.

This provided a hell of a segue for me to ask Haley straight up, “Are the ‘good ol’ boys’ alive and well in South Carolina? To which she replied, “Absolutely.” So, how did she, South Carolina’s first female governor, crack the code?

“Communication,” she said. “I was predictable. There was no vote the legislature didn’t know about. They knew there would report cards. And they know that anyone, at any time, from either party can come and talk to me. My door is always open.”

Haley isn’t merely the first female governor in the state; she is also the youngest in the country, which sets her up for plenty of “rookie” criticism. But her matter-of-fact, open-book attitude, makes it hard to find fault in the way she conducts business. She’s honest. In fact, her decision to enter the political realm was born from the way she conducted business in the private sector.

“As an accountant, I saw firsthand how hard it was for businesses—my family’s business included—to make money and how easy it was for the government to take money,” Haley said. “I soon realized that we needed more people from the business world in the state house, and that was the beginning.”

Fortunately for Haley, her mother had always told her, “There is nothing you can’t do.” So her decision to run for the legislature and then governor was never halted by doubt. “If I had stopped the first time someone told me I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have gone into accounting, I wouldn’t have pursued the state representative seat, and I wouldn’t be standing here in front of you today.”

So, what advice does she offer to the young women in our state, whose dreams may be marred by self-doubt? “Can’t is not an option. Challenge yourself. Push through. Keep going. If you are going to do something, don’t be good at it. Be great at it.”

Haley already has one of the toughest jobs in the world: that of a parent. And, interestingly what she has learned as a mom has helped her navigate her chief executive post. “I bring my expertise to the table in every situation—as a mother, as a military wife, as the daughter of immigrants. I know if I’m a great mom, and a great wife, I will be a great governor.”

But, how does she find the time to do it all? “Balance,” Haley said. “When I started, I decided that I would not compromise.”

Not compromising means that Haley sees her two children before they head off to school each morning, and before they crawl into bed each night. The family eats dinner together four of seven nights a week. Most importantly “Haley Family Fun Night” is alive and well. The family tradition, Friday Fun Nights, equals kids’ choice movies and menu. The Governor disconnects from the day-to-day and re-connects with the family. And on date nights, she and hubby still sneak away for some “us time.”

Finding balance at home and applying the same formula to work is not easy. In fact, it is a monster task, one that perhaps only a woman could handle so gracefully. After all, we’ve been doing it for years, haven’t we?
The state of our state can be discouraging, when we look at unemployment rates, education statistics, elevating costs to do business, and frankly what it takes to survive. None of this is lost on Haley who said, “We have a choice. Our cup can be half full or it can be half empty. It’s half full in South Carolina and we’re going to look at it that way.”

Her 2012 legislative agenda is aggressive and includes jobs training; the phasing out of corporate income tax; the creation of a Department of Administration, which will eliminate the duplication across state agencies and embrace a best practice under which 48 other states operate; retirement system reform; and higher education accountability.

Haley’s plate is full. She knows it. She also knows that no matter what path she takes, she’s wise to keep the public informed. So, if you don’t like what you’re hearing, tell her. She’ll listen (even if you tend to lean left, as I do.).
In fact, at the recent Bluffton Town Hall meeting, she was engaged and accommodating, and afforded the opportunity to anyone who wanted to ask a question. To her credit, she listened as some questions droned on and on, and others made no sense whatsoever. But she listened. And she answered every last one.

Bless her heart.

Let Us Know what You Think ...

commenting closed for this article