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EDITOR’S NOTE: THERE IS A SERIOUS ERROR BELOW, WHICH I HAVE NOW CORRECTED. PLEASE SEE THE CORRECTION POST.
Been trying all day to get to Nikki Haley’s speech last night. Here are a few quick observations:
- First, the style: Nikki is a WAY better speaker than Mark Sanford. She, at least, can read a speech that’s right in front of her (and do it in a fairly engaging way). Her predecessor could not, or would not. Every year, I’d get my copy of the speech over lunch on the day of. I’d read it, mark it up, and ask questions about it. I would have completely digested it by the time of the speech itself. Then came speech time, which I generally watched from the comfort of my office on the tube. And then I had to suffer through his hems and haws, and “I would says” and “at the end of the days,” and flat-out off-script digressions, all of them awkward, pausing to search for words, ignoring the speech in front of him. Nikki, with her teleprompter, was MUCH better. But I expected no less.
- This is not to say that her style is without its irritating characteristics. There’s her prim, smug, I’m-the-girl-with-the-most-gold-stars-in-the-class tone that she too often affects. Watch, for instance, when she extols the blessings of having “a chief executive willing to lead the charge and make the tough decisions” — speaking, of course, of herself. I guess someone who came from the back bench to governor in a year is bound to be a bit self-congratulatory. Human nature. But she could tone it down a bit. And often, she does.
- Do you know why she can only suggest $120 million worth of cuts toward the $719 million shortfall? Because she hasn’t suggested anything that her political base might object to. And it’s hard to come up with cuts that deep and still do that. She hit programs for those worthless, lazy poor people, of course. And when she got to the middle class, she only went after the stuff that those wicked, decadent liberals like — such as ETV. But the truth is, everybody will have reason to gripe when all the cuts are in. Because believe me, this state’s leaders will never pull an Illinois. Not that they should; I’m just assuring you that they won’t. It’s going to be cuts all the way. And that has nothing to do with Nikki Haley; that’s just the way our State House does things.
- The ETV thing, of course, is nothing new. Back during the GOP runoff last year, I went over to tape an interview at ETV. They had already talked with Gresham Barrett for the same show. But Nikki wasn’t even calling them back. Scuttlebutt in the ETV corridors was that she didn’t want to talk to them because she was going to back Mark Sanford’s veto of their entire budget. Don’t know whether they were right, but I could see how they’d get that impression.
- Don’t you love the way she blithely suggests that if you kill ETV (excuse me, “When you release government from the things it should not be responsible for…”), it has this miraculous effect: “you allow the private sector to be more creative and cost efficient.” Remarkable, the things these ideologues will say as though they believed them. Love or hate ETV — and I see it as what it is, one of those few things that South Carolina can point to as something it has done as well as, or better than, other parts of the country (at least in past years) — the notion that the private sector will fill the gap is laughable. You know, this private sector… (Remember when Bravo was known for high-quality arts programming. Not anymore, baby.)
- I’m definitely with her on asking for quick confirmation of her appointees. She’s made some good picks, and they deserve the opportunity to get to work. Advise, consent, but let’s do it quickly.
- That little nonsensical (to all but Tea Party ideologues) lecture about how federal funding is inherently a BAD thing was painful to listen to. See, the trouble with the feds sending us money to fund services is that “federal money comes strings, and with those strings come limitations.” The alternative, of course, in South Carolina is that those needs don’t get funded at all. But they’re not really needs, are they? Say that often enough, and you start to believe it. Apparently. In my book, it’s offensive nonsense to say “my cabinet will stop the practice of working the system to get increases in federal funding simply for the sake of expanding our budgets” — as if agencies have sought such funding for any other reason that to fund important services — services they are charged with providing — that the state won’t fund. But yeah, I get it: Her base believes government shouldn’t do such things anyway.
- I love, love, love that she’s starting out asking for ending the separate election of constitutional officers. Of course, I’m disappointed that she’s only pushing to do two of them — Gov Lite and superintendent of education. But it’s a start, and maybe that’s the smart way: Isolate a couple, so lawmakers can’t hide their votes to kill them. Then do the others later. Remember what they did last time there were votes on the whole shebang? The senators swapped votes, with just enough voting against putting each constitutional change on the ballot to kill it, but each senator being able to say he voted for some (or most) of them. So in this case, maybe piecemeal is smart. And, we hope, a substantive move toward the greater accountability Nikki says she wants to foster.
- NOTE: THIS BULLET POINT IS COMPLETELY WRONG. I MISREAD WHAT THE GOVERNOR SAID. IN FACT, I THINK WHAT SHE SAID WAS PRAISEWORTHY. I’VE WRITTEN A SEPARATE POST TO SAY SO, IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS. How’d you like this part? “The state of South Carolina pays more than $16,000 annually to incarcerate a single prisoner. We spend more each year on a prisoner than we do on a student. Think of the savings we’ll realize if we aren’t constantly welcoming back behind bars those prisoners who finish out their initial terms.” Usually, when a politician says that, he or she is suggesting that we need to do more to make sure kids get a good education so they don’t end up in prison, which IS more expensive. Nikki says it to justify spending less than our current lowest-in-the-nation amount per prisoner. One way she’d do this? Well, we’re already spending rock-bottom per meal, so we’ll just serve fewer meals. If you think this is a great idea, there’s nothing I can say to you. Except that there is a danger to all of us in running undermanned, underguarded prisons full of starved prisoners. But let’s move on.
- I very much like that she’s started off her tenure on the Budget and Control Board by helping it work well together. She’s right to be smug about that. I like even better that she sound MORE determined last night than she has to insisting that the board be replaced with something more answerable to the governor. For years, lawmakers were able to shrug off this reform (and cling illegitimately to executive power) by saying you just couldn’t work with that Mark Sanford (which was true, but it was still just an excuse). Now, with the cooperative tone she’s set, they can’t say that. Let’s see some action. Stay on them on this, and keep pouring on the honey — since vinegar didn’t work.
- This morning, I saw tweets from SCRG touting her speech. But there was no getting around the fact that she did not mention their signature issue — diverting funding from public education to private schools. Good for her. That was a welcome relief from the distracting nonsense of recent years.
Finally, a bit of a digression of my own: On the day that the U.S. House engaged in one of the most offensive partisan gestures I’ve seen in many a year — their farcical “repeal” of health care reform, demonstrating yet again that these yahoos who have taken over the GOP don’t give a damn about health care in America, they just want to cock a snook at Barack Obama at every opportunity — it was just as offensive to see the governor of our state take ANY time in a 34-minute speech to say that HER Cabinet will do all it can to opt out of that same reform. Because, you know, we don’t want South Carolina reaping any benefits that might accrue. If she hadn’t done that, I might have been able to take the fact that she wants to make the lion’s share of her cuts to Medicaid. But paired with that ideological statement, there was no way to put a positive spin on the cuts to care for the poor. Together, those gestures said, “We’re not going to help these people get health care, and we won’t let anyone else do it, either.”
There was good and bad in this brief, brisk, well-delivered speech. But that one thing kind of cast a pall over it all for me. Maybe it wouldn’t have bothered me so much if not for what the House had done that day. After all, while she couched it in ideological language (which is the only way to say the things she was saying, since pragmatism doesn’t enter into such an equation), and while her 1860-flavored digression about the rights of states to resist federal initiatives was kinda creepy amid the celebrations (as opposed to mere observances) we’re seeing related to that period, was downright creepy… still, I was pleased with the respectful, nonpartisan way she described her interaction with the president. But in the end creepy is creepy. And playing ideological games with the lives of sick people is inexcusable. No, we can’t pay for everything we’d like. And no, that federal legislation is far, FAR from perfect. But it’s the only live preserver that’s been thrown, and our governor has no business trying to yank it away.
It just seems to me that we have enough challenges here in South Carolina, more than enough for the governor to say grace over. I can see NO good reason to use any of our limited time, energy or resources mixing into these national partisan fights — especially if we don’t have a better plan for accomplishing what the feds are trying to accomplish.