I want to tell you a little bit about myself, and then we’ll go into why I’m running and then let you ask some questions because it’s more interesting to hear from you than it is from me.
I was born and raised in the small town of Bamberg, which, if any of you know where that is, it is a small little town that you couldn’t think about doing something wrong without somebody already calling and telling your mom. It was a great place to grow up because we learned responsibility and accountability early. I am the daughter of immigrant parents that reminded us every day how blessed we were to live in this country. They loved the fact that you could start something, work very hard, be as successful as you wanted to be, and no one was going to get in your way. They started a business out of the living room of our home and 35+ years later it was a multi-million dollar company. What I wanted to tell you was that there was never a day that it was easy. There was never a day that we didn’t worry. There was never a day we didn’t look at yesterday and say, ‘how could we have done it better?’ or look at tomorrow and say, ‘how are we going to make it?’ I started doing the accounting, the payroll, and the sales taxes, all of that, when I was 13. I didn’t know that wasn’t normal until I got to Clemson. What I can tell you now is they didn’t want me to know limitations. They did want me to know the limitations of age. They didn’t want me to know the limitations of gender. They didn’t want me to know about the limitations of being Indian. What they said is that whatever you do, be great at it and make sure that people will remember you for it.
I went on to Clemson and met my husband my very first weekend there. We dated for seven years. We have been married for 13. I graduated with a degree in accounting and went on worked as a corporate accountant for a company in Charlotte and for their subsidiaries as the accounting supervisor. Then I came back home to the family business. The one thing we noticed time and time again in our family business was how hard it was to make a dollar and how easy it was for the government to take it.
I got very frustrated about it, and my parents are the type that they always say don’t complain about it, do something about it so I decided to run for the statehouse. I had never been involved in party politics. I had never been in student government or anything that would qualify me to run for the political process, but I defeated the longest-serving legislator in the Republican primary.
When I got to the statehouse, I saw some things that I liked and I saw some things that I didn’t, but the one thing I can tell you that we are seeing on the state level, that we continue to see on the federal level, is that government has no value for a dollar. They don’t understand that people pay this money in. They don’t understand that how they spend it matters.
When I got to the statehouse in 2005, we had a $4 billion budget. In 2006, we had a $5 billion budget. In 2007, we had a $6 billion budget. Government grew by a billion dollars a year and you didn’t feel it, and they couldn’t tell you what they did with it. I continued to fight wasteful spending, but it all came to an end, like Tom said, a couple of years ago. We were dealing with more and more bills crossing the desk and being passed by voice vote. The accountant in me, every time a bill would cross the desk, those were dollar signs. We were growing the budget and you couldn’t see the spending habits of your legislators because they weren’t putting their name with their vote.
There was a bill that came up, and it focused on cost of living increases for state employees and retirees. At the last minute someone slipped in an amendment that would give legislators retirement perks. It is not uncommon, they will do that, I just wanted to know exactly who voted for it and who voted against it, but instead, it was read across the desk, passed overwhelmingly, and to this day you cannot find one legislator that says they voted themselves a pay raise. I got very upset and the very next day I filed a bill that said anything important enough to be debated on the floor of the House or the Senate is important enough for you to know how your legislators voted on it. There was a report that came out that year. Of all the bills passed in the South Carolina House, only 8% were on the record. Of all the bills passed in the South Carolina Senate, only 1% was on the record. So my question to you is, if you didn’t know how your House member voted in 92% of the time, if you didn’t know how your Senator voted in 99% of the time, how did you know who to vote for when you went to the polls? You didn’t.
This is the part that is a little bit painful. I went to my Republican leadership, I said we must do this, this will make us accountable and the people will start to trust us again. My leadership said to put the bill away, we don’t need to have it. We will decide what the people need to see and what they don’t.
To put that in perspective, I do want to give you an idea about my legislative career. My first year in office I was Chairman of the Freshman Class. My second year I was majority whip. Third year I was put on a powerful business committee. My fourth year I was Subcommittee Chair of Banking. The year that I wouldn’t put the bill away, the year that I fought to get you legislative votes on record, they stripped me of everything. Now, I’m not a victim of that process. I was very aware that if I moved forward there would be punishment to pay, but while they were trying to show my colleagues, this is what we do to someone that steps out of line, I was trying to show my colleagues, this is what happens when we step out of line.
I am still strong. I am still standing. I am very aware of who I work for, and it wasn’t anyone in that Statehouse. The good news, like Tom said, is that we passed rules a year ago January in both the House and Senate that now gives us unprecedented number of votes on the record, but there is still a bill pending. I would ask you to contact your House member. Tom is already on board. Let them know these are your votes and give them back. It is House bill 3047, and we must have it. I want to make sure that every single vote is on the record and that is permanent law.
It’s not just legislative votes on the record that I want to see. I was not for term limits when I walked into the Statehouse; I am absolutely for term limits now. We have to have them because what happened to me is not uncommon. Legislators go to Columbia with the best of intentions. [ inaudible ]. They are told not to step out of line. They are threatened with committee assignments. What happens is that those people serving on your House finance committees, they are not your accountants. They are not your finance managers. They are not people used to spending or managing money. Instead, they are the people that are quiet and broken and stay out of the way.
If we put term limits in place, we will have fresh faces, fresh voices, and fresh ideas working for the people of South Carolina and not the power of the legislature. I will also tell you that I want all of our budgets online. I want all of our taxpayer spending online. You are busy, you will probably never look at it, but if they know that you can see it then they will have to be responsible with how they spend it. I compare it to a teacher in the classroom. When the teacher is in the classroom, the kids are fine. When the teacher walks out of the classroom, what happens? The kids cut up a little bit. It’s not because they’re bad kids but because they can. I want you to be the teacher in the classroom. I want you to be able to see the spending habits of your government.
Finally, like Tom said, I represent Lexington County for $10,000 a year. I have to have another job. I want you to know who else pays me. We have to have income disclosures in the state of South Carolina. Once you see who is paying your legislators, you will suddenly realize why policy has moved the way it has in South Carolina.
When we put income disclosures in place, two things will happen: 1) Legislators will know when to recuse themselves from votes and 2) Policy will start to move forward that benefits the people of this state instead of the wallets of the legislators alone. When we talk about wasteful spending and we talk about good government, let’s talk about where we are right now. Everyone is talking about the fact that we have 12% unemployment in this state. I can tell you as an accountant, we have one of the most Band-aided tax structures in the country. I want us to look at every single tax, every single fee because a fee is a tax, and every single exemption. We need to make sure that we no longer pass government-friendly legislation that we pass business-friendly legislation. The first thing we need to do is eliminate the small business income tax because when you give businesses cash flow, when you give them a profit margin, what’s the first thing they do? They hire people. They invest back in our state. Let’s look at reducing the personal income tax because when we turn around and start to do that, people won’t move all the way down to Florida. They will stop here and invest their money here. That is what creates jobs. That is what turns our economy.
Everybody is talking about Boeing. It was a great win for us. We were glad to have it, but we don’t need to have a Boeing and a BMW every 20 years. What we need to understand is, 95% of our economy is small businesses. When we turn around and create a business climate that is competitive, when we focus on tax structure, when we focus on worker’s comp reform and tort reform and making sure that everything we do creates a good healthy structure for a business, businesses will come here not because we smile and take them to dinner, but they will come here because it makes sense to their bottom line and it makes sense to their profit margins.
I know I have thrown a lot at you, and I certainly welcome and look forward to your questions. There is nothing I won’t answer. I want to close and tell you this, I am a woman that knows that with the Grace of God, all things are possible. I am the daughter of parents that reminded us every day how blessed we were to live in this country. I am the sister of a man who fought Desert Storm, and I still remember what it was like when we didn’t know if he would come home. I am the wife of a husband who puts on a military uniform every day and loves his job. I am the mother of two children in public schools, and I care about what their education looks like, and I care about what kind of government they are going to have. I am a legislator that knows what good government is, and I want the people of this state to know what that feels like. Thank you very much.
nikkihaley2010. "Nikki Haley - Stump Speech." YouTube video, 9:56. April 8, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeE1LwzOFiQ.