Interview with South Carolina governor Nikki Haley

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley held a round-table interview this afternoon with several reporters in Greenville, SC ahead of the first Republican presidential debate here this evening. The following is a condensed excerpt of the exchange. A daughter of Sikh immigrants from India, she is the first woman and the first non-white governor of the state. At age 39, she is also the youngest governor in US.

Tonight’s televised debate is the first in the Republican presidential nomination contest.

Q – The obvious question is that there is a sense of frustration that some of the bigger names aren’t here for this debate. We wanted to get your reaction…

A – I don’t know that it’s frustration. What we are looking at is the fact that some candidates want to be here early and want to show their aggressiveness they are doing that and I applaud them for doing that. The others are going to have to make up for lost time. And they’ll have to realize that when they come, they have missed the first chance to get that messaging out there. But they are all coming. And the people of South Carolina are ready and excited to hear what they have to say.

Q – Are they making a mistake in judgment?

A – I will tell you anybody that ignores the state of South Carolina is making a huge mistake.  To me as a candidate, you went anywhere and everywhere to let people know how much you cared. I think that the candidates need to show the people of South Carolina that they will be anywhere and everywhere to show how much they care.

Q – You have been very critical of the message you have heard from the candidates so far? Have you heard that yet, or what are you looking to hear?

A – The people of South Carolina and I don’t want a candidate coming in here telling us how they are going to win. We want a candidate that is talking about policy. What are they going to do to make us more energy independent? What are they going to do in reference to what the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] has done with the unions against Boeing? What are they going to do in terms of our debt ceiling? What are they going to in terms of improvement of our quality of life and make sure we have more industry in the United States. What are they going to do in reference to our military and the fact that now we have Bin Laden now but now we have to continue to be vigilant.

The people of South Carolina want specifics. Any candidate who comes in and thinks they are just going to bring their high-powered consultants and visit GOP groups, they are making a mistake. They have to see every corner of the state, see every person, and talk about specifics. I did not win my election by the GOP establishment or the money people. I won by the cooks in the kitchen, and the parking meter attendants, and the law enforcement officers. People talk doesn’t go over well in this state but results and pure substance does.

Q – Tim Pawlenty has tried to impress you. Has he made any progress?

A – Absolutely. I applaud him for responding to the lawsuit against Boeing. And I challenge every other candidate to do the same.

When a candidate responds, he shows he is listening and answering tough questions, we have to give them credit…

Q – You mention energy independence. Have you thought about the issue of the proposed pipeline form Canada bringing more oil sands [crude]?

A – The one thing that we are hearing from our constituents are oil prices. … All I want are permanent solutions. I want someone who will come in and say,  this is how we’re going to handle it. This is where we’ll be a year from now and this is where we’re going to be two years from now. I would like to see us start to drill…

Q – South Carolina is known, particularly among Canadians, as being the South and everything that implies. You are the first female, Indo-American governor, you are in the your 30s, are you representative of some kind of new face of the Republican Party and what can you do to help the party nationally?

A – I represent a state that is going to show every other state in the country what a good state looks like. I am incredibly proud of our state.  I will tell you that I absolutely agree with my friend and national columnist, George Will, who said, “I you are looking for the state that has changed the most in the last 50 years, you’d say it was California. But if you are looking for the state that has changed for the best in the last 50 years, you’d definitely say South Carolina.” That is what the state is excited about. There is a new energy in our state. Unemployment rates are down for fourth month in a row, tourism rates are up, exports are up. We’ve got jobs coming in left and right.

I am on the phone with companies every day and they want to come. And the types of companies we are talking to are automotive, aerospace, manufacturing, research and development. They are coming because the cost of doing business in South Carolina is low and the trained workforce we are supplying to them. We are a strong right to work state that does not want the labour unions anywhere around us. The phones are ringing and we are quite excited.

Q – When you talk to Mitt Romney’s supporters about why he is not coming here, you hear, you know, people don’t like Mormons in South Carolina and that’s why he didn’t do well last time. You backed him last time. Do you think there is anything to that?

A – No. The people of South Carolina are good people. This will be very much like my election. It doesn’t matter if you are male or female or black or white, or what your religions is. What matters is what you are going to do to influences people’s lives… The person who communicates that the best and reaches out among everybody will win. I want to remind you that anybody who has won SC has gone on to win the Republican nomination. That is because South Carolina represents the country and all that is great about this country.

Q – How much of the NLRB decision do you blame on President Obama?

A – All of it. Absolutely all of it. He appointed Mr. Solomon to the NELB board. To sue a company just because they chose to expand into a right-to-work state is the biggest insult they could do to right to work state. They have picked the wrong state to mess with. I will tell you that this is a desperate attempt of the labour unions to get relevant and it’s just not going to work.

Q – Would you be interested in being Vice President in 2012, on the ticket?

A – No, everybody wants to talk about VP with me and what I tell them they need to be focused on the top of the ticket. We don’t have the luxury of talking about VP right now.

Q – What would you say is your biggest accomplishment since becoming governor?

A – For me, the biggest accomplishment is the fact that now every single legislator has to record their vote on record, that became law, and not only that, they have to show how they vote on every section of the budget. We went from being one of the weakest states on transparency to one of the strongest on accountability in the country and I’m incredibly proud of that.

Q – But you took on many in your own party for that, though. Do you think you’ll pay for that down the road?

A – No. Both parties have made mistakes. What we saw in last election is a chance for Republican party to define itself as conservatives again and to define itself about real issues again. That’s something I’m going to encourage through how I lead in South Carolina and something I’m going to encourage in how people talk to the presidential candidates.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.