Well, it wasn’t Independence Day for Nikki Haley. Could there have been any harsher repudiation of the governor’s agenda and tactics than what happened Wednesday night at the State House?
Despite Republican control, the relationship between this legislature and governor is different than with former Gov. Mark Sanford. Where many of Sanford’s vetoes just seemed ill-conceived, Haley’s tactics -- as much as her policies -- brought out real anger among her own party members.
Wednesday night, the S.C. House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to override 26 of Haley’s 34 budget vetoes. The Senate went along, only failing to agree with the House on one measure, bringing the total overrides down to 25.
The two best examples came on votes to override the governor’s vetoes of funding for S.C. ETV and the S.C. Arts Commission. The House voted a whopping 105-8 to override Haley’s veto of the arts commission’s budget. The Senate followed, 32-6.
According to its website, the commission is an autonomous agency created by the state legislature in 1967 to “make it possible for every citizen in the state to enjoy and benefit from the arts, including those who do not have a lot of money or live in a large city.” The commission is primarily funded by state tax dollars and benefits from some federal funds from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
I’ve looked up the actual state code that created and governs the commission. While the governor appoints the members, the legislature appropriates the necessary funding to carry out its mission. In all cases, the code uses the wonderful political verbiage that anything requiring funds must be “within the amount appropriated therefore.”
The idea that private funding can support these two groups -- as Haley has proposed for both the arts commission and SCETV -- is just ludicrous.
In fact, let me get to SCETV, because that’s the case that generated the most anger. From what has been reported in other media, Haley worked out a deal where she wouldn’t veto money for the public broadcaster as long as it was built into other state agency budgets. Where she had told constituents she wanted ETV privatized, she was willing to cut a back-room deal that would continue funding -- as long as it was controlled by people in her cabinet. The legislature went along, fitting that plan into the proposed budget.
In other words, Haley got exactly what she said she wanted: ETV indirectly funded by cabinet-level agencies.
Then she two-faced those same legislators and vetoed the ETV funds.
And that’s when things got ugly. I read that House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham -- one of Haley’s fellow GOP’ers -- received a standing ovation after saying the following:
“The governor’s office had asked us to do this very thing that they now turn around and veto,” Bingham said, adding that Haley’s office didn’t let him know the veto was coming. “I am sick and tired of people politicizing this body and this General Assembly for their own personal benefit. There is no educational value in the second kick of the mule. Once I’ve been kicked, that’s it.”
While I don’t like back-room deals, “Trikki” Haley (as some are beginning to call her) obviously lied about her intentions in making the deal. For months, both before and after taking office, Haley promised her Tea Party backers -- who appear to hate public radio (part of ETV) and anything receiving NEA funding -- that she would cut all state funding to both ETV and the arts commission.
That leaves federal funds (the hated NEA) and private donations (in a sour economy). Face it: what Haley’s really been promising is the complete dismantling of both programs.
Her fellow Republicans shouldn’t have been so surprised. After all, Haley replaced the entire ETV board with like-minded individuals. For those of us who love the arts and what ETV has brought to this state for more than 40 years, it was a fearful sign of the times.
How many of us grew up on “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company”? As a teenager and young adult, the only way I could see my favorite British science fiction series, “Doctor Who,” was on public television. Where else can we enjoy “Sherlock Holmes,” “NOVA” and Boston Pops concerts? On the radio, “Morning Edition,” “All Things Considered” and countless other programs are priceless.
Those federal funds Haley wants to rely on? They require matching state funds. Like I said, she’s really aiming to dismantle two bastions of arts, education and quality entertainment.
I should point out one other override. Both houses rejected Haley’s veto of funds for the Conservation Bank, restoring some $2 million for protection programs and $200,000 to run the office.
One of the bank’s biggest supporters is he-who-should-be-gov, our very own State Sen. Vincent Sheheen.
“This funding is critical for protecting our precious natural resources,” Sheheen said after securing the $2 million. “One of South Carolina’s greatest assets for attracting new business and people are its natural resources.”
Sheheen got the ball rolling after being elected in 2000. An act creating the bank was signed into law two years later. Sheheen has continued to work on it -- a bi-partisan effort, by the way -- ever since.
That’s pretty strong support and Haley should have taken a cue from her predecessor:
Even Mark Sanford didn’t try to get rid of it.