Gov.-elect Nikki Haley announced former U.S. Ambassador and state House Speaker David Wilkins as chief of her transition team Monday.
Wilkins, whose tenure in the House spanned five governors, is highly regarded in this legislatively dominated state, and a choice that signals Haley is serious about improving the frayed relationships between the Legislature and the governor.
Haley did not name any selections for her governor's cabinet, and wouldn't say what positions she was interested in keeping or replacing.
Also on her transition team are campaign manager Tim Peterson, who will serve as executive director, and Rob Godfrey, who will serve as press secretary during the transition. Haley also named one of Gov. Mark Sanford's staff attorneys, Swati Patel, to her transition team. Patel served as chief legal counsel for Sanford on his impeachment subcommittee meetings last December, but took a leave of absence to become a mother.
Haley said her transition team is especially important given the projected $1 billion shortfall the state faces next year and the 11 percent unemployment rate.
Haley's choice of Wilkins was immediately criticized by state Democrats.
S.C. Party chairwoman Carol Fowler said Wilkins is as "insider" as government officials come.
"We were hoping Nikki Haley had gotten the hypocrisy out of her system during her campaign, but apparently she didn't," Fowler said in a statement.
"David Wilkins' appointment shows South Carolinians that the Haley administration isn't going to be the 'movement' they were promised. The governor-elect has given the highest position on her team to one of the very same good ol' boys she campaigned against. She can't move this state forward by continuing to reach backward."
House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, praised Haley's choice of Wilkins, saying that a person needs to understand how a system works before understanding how to change it. Bingham said Wilkins' appointment to the transition team is wise.
"I think it sends a very strong message to the state of South Carolina that she’s very serious about getting something done," Bingham said.