Revisionist Spin Machine On Rinse For Haley’s Record?
October 4, 2017
By Andy Brack | Contributing Writer
With the next presidential election three years away, it isn’t odd to start wondering whether a revisionist rinse is already spinning away to bolster the gubernatorial record of now U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Just look to a premise in a weekend story about the former S.C. governor that claimed she was the driving force behind “$180 million in new education funding three years ago.” Really? Is that what happened?
By the summer of 2013, Haley’s administration had been laser-focused for months on bringing more jobs to South Carolina and it was paying off. Very rarely were there any news releases on anything other than jobs and the economy. The governor, who penned a book deal for her memoirs very early in her administration, was skilled at snatching national television time by injecting herself in skirmishes certain to make headlines, such as refusing billions of Obamacare dollars to expand Medicaid to the state’s poorest.
She was weathering extraordinary hacks of personal information at the state Department of Revenue and the typical administrative problems of a governor by putting a good face on many issues by reminding people, “It’s a great day in South Carolina.”
But she had developed a contentious relationship with the General Assembly, once even threatening to call lawmakers back into session to deal with a restructuring bill because that’s what she wanted done. She made ethics reform a priority. But she was largely missing in action on a range of issues from pension reform and more money for infrastructure. By 2013, lawmakers were talking about ways to fix formula funding of the state’s public schools, but Haley wasn’t around.
Two-and-a-half years into her administration, Haley had lots of press clips, but little real substance to show. She kept her base happy by finding convenient punching bags, including the federal government over unions, Medicaid money and federal aid or state lawmakers with, as we wrote five years ago, “public displays of disaffection” over zeroing out some agencies, recasting how government worked or getting more executive power.
But looming was a re-election effort. In the policy arena, her Achilles heel was education, something that impacted millions of South Carolina families and had been mostly ignored by an administration intent on media coverage and recruiting jobs. As it became clear that Democrats could use her dismal education record against her, Haley set out on a listening tour to learn.
At the start of the 2014 session just 10 months before the election, Haley unveiled an education reform package reportedly worth more than $200 million. But was she the driving force behind the substance of the package, as spinmeisters now appear to be saying?
Not really. The governor was a key voice that pushed $30 million of technology improvements for schools. That was important. But what she and her staff did, more than anything, was to recycle a bunch of ideas lawmakers had been percolating over for years by repackaging them. Her plan, for example, adopted indexing key state education funding to poverty levels in school districts. That wasn’t new; it had been discussed for months by educrats. Her plan called for $29 million of reading coaches in poor schools, an idea she credited to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and something that state Sen. Harvey Peeler had been working on the year before. Her plan called for a $39 million increase in base student costs, something the legislature had been increasing every year since the Great Recession (even though legislators continued to underfund public education despite state law that required more funding).
One insider familiar with education policy remarked that Haley inserted her plan in the middle of a debate that had been going on for years and took credit without lots of heavy lifting. It was a perfect policy storm and Nikki Haley took advantage of it.
When policy researchers for future presidential campaigns look into Haley’s record – and you can bet they already are — they need to make sure they look past the bluster and public relations spin machine. They need to examine what she did, not what her supporters might claim she did. What they’ll find is likely to be a lot more sugar than substance.
Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: firstname.lastname@example.org