Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Haley's Meteoric Rise Continues as S.C.'s First Female Governor

Once every 75 to 76 years, Halley's Comet is visible from Earth in our inner solar system and presents itself as a once-in-a-lifetime event to behold and wonder. Now, another phenomenon is taking place no one in South Carolina would ever believe could happen in their lifetime: the inauguration of a female governor. That precedent is now history as Nikki Haley was sworn in earlier today as the 116th governor of South Carolina and the state's first female governor.

She also becomes just the fifth Republican governor of South Carolina under the state's Constitution of 1895. All five have been elected within the last forty years. Little did anyone know, it was also during this time that Haley would go from unknown businesswoman to the highest political office in the Palmetto State.

Born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in Bamberg, South Carolina, her parents came to the state from India as Sikh immigrants. She graduated from Clemson University as an accounting major, which explains her fiscally conservative policies. After college, she worked for her mother's clothing company – now a multi-million dollar business – before being named to the Board of Directors for the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce in 1998. She was named to the same position up in Lexington, South Carolina five years later. During this time, she also was treasurer for the National Association of Women Business Owners and eventually named president in 2004.

By 2004, Haley began her first political campaign running for a spot in the South Carolina House of Representatives. She beat incumbent Larry Koon, then the longest-tenured member of the House, in the Republican primary and ran unopposed in the general election. She was reelected to the same post in 2006 and 2008. In mid-May 2009, Haley announced that she was going to run for the governor's office. On the way, she was endorsed by Mitt Romney (a GOP presidential candidate) and Sarah Palin (former governor of Alaska), among others. She ran into some minor controversy during the summer of 2010, when a blog post by the former press secretary of the incumbent governor confessed "an inappropriate physical relationship" with Haley in May, and then the next month when South Carolina State Senator Jake Knotts – a fellow Republican – called her a "raghead", an offensive term toward people of Indian Sikh descent. However, none of that slowed her down as she made history and was elected governor on November 2, 2010 over Vincent Sheehen, 51% to 47%.

Haley will succeed Mark Sanford, who was South Carolina's previous governor from January 15, 2003 through today. Politically, Sanford's boldest move came when he publicly spoke out against receiving any stimulus funds as part of President Obama's Recovery Act in 2009 before he ultimately requested $700 million in federal aid several months later. However, he then spent the last year and a half of his tenure embroiled in controversy after disappearing for four days without telling anyone of his whereabouts and eventually confessing to an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina during that time or, as he put it, "hiking on the Appalachian Trail." As for now former first lady Jenny Sanford, who also supported Haley during her campaign for governor, she lambasted her husband in a memoir she penned and filed for divorce, which was finalized in March 2010. But I digress.

With her inauguration, Haley becomes both the first female and non-white governor of South Carolina, as well as the youngest governor in the United States today at age 38. She is the second incumbent U.S. governor of Indian descent, following Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who also happened to be the youngest U.S. governor before Haley was elected.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a truly historical day for South Carolina, not just because of Haley's background, but because the state is notorious for its defianacy as well as it's historical charm. A short list of infamous moments in South Carolina's history include seceding first from the Union and essentially starting the U.S. Civil War, passing 22 Jim Crow laws until nearly a century after the Civil War ended, and flying the Confederate flag atop the state's Capitol Building until 2000. I can't exactly defend the actions by my state here, since my parent's families were in Europe at the time of the Civil War and I wasn't around when segregation was still legal. As far as the Confederate flag goes, I think it's a symbol of heritage that's had the unfortunate circumstance of being synonymous with slavery. No matter, this is a new day and a new era for not only South Carolina politics, but for all with ties to this great state.

Best of luck to the new governess. May you continue to be a shooting star.

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