By now, our governor is deep into her cross-state tour to reveal her graded report cards for every member of the General Assembly. This week she held town halls in Rock Hill, Irmo and Aiken. Next week: Hilton Head and Charleston.
Alas, we will have to wait until week three to hear a live report on how the Spartanburg and Greenville delegations fared on the Haley PASS test. Those so interested should plan to join her Oct. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at Byrnes High School in Duncan.
As this column was due before the first town hall, I don’t know whether the governor chose to be combative or collaborative in tone. Experience shows she is fully capable of both. Either way, the town halls are sure to reveal more about Nikki Haley than any of the legislators she judges.
Start with the events themselves. As vehicles to unveil the governor’s agenda for the next year and get a grassroots reaction, town halls are a great idea. But to crisscross the state calling out individual lawmakers for their performance on her goals, not their own, presumes a superiority Haley doesn’t have. As Columbia Sen. Joel Lourie asked back in March, “Am I supposed to take it home and get my mother to sign it? Or maybe my wife?”
Again, if Haley takes a we’re-in-this-together approach on her travels, the end result may be a nudge toward many useful reforms lawmakers have avoided for years.
But the school marmish way she did it will still rankle, I bet, even with the lawmakers who put a good face on it. Legislators are accountable to South Carolina voters, not the governor. In the end, this is exactly what Lourie said: a publicity stunt. A good show, with questionable enduring effect. Sound familiar?
But while the show is definitely Sanfordesque, Haley differs from her predecessor in one key aspect: Sanford was a master of the fine detail. Haley is all Big Idea. I picture her striding around Columbia tossing them off, underlings scurrying beside her, scribbling, “It’s a great day in South Carolina!” “Worker training!” “Drug testing for the unemployed!”
Big idea people are characteristically averse to documentation and detail, which is why Haley could repeat “a million times” – without checking her facts – that half the job applicants at the Savannah River Site failed drug tests. The actual number was less than 1 percent. But some unidentified someone told her the flashier statistic, and “I’ve never felt like I had to back up what people tell me,” she told the Associated Press (a quote that still staggers me every time I read it).
It’s why she can brag about bringing 10,000 jobs to the state when her own Commerce Department counts 5,000 and claim she “closed two deals” on her trip to Europe when “in the works” was far more accurate.
These are all things Haley wants to be true: the jobs, the deals, the justification for drug testing she told her hometown Rotary Club she has “been wanting since the first day I walked into office.” Wanting it so badly she can casually smear the reputation of hundreds of SRS job-seekers in its support rather than check her prattle long enough to see if the words are true.
Big ideas can be great ideas, and South Carolina surely needs some great ideas. South Carolina also needs a governor who understands that words matter – that big ideas rooted in fiction turn out to be fairytales.