State of the State: Haley’s chance to establish legacy

Gov. Nikki Haley

COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley stands to carve out her legacy during this evening’s State of the State address, in which she’s expected to lay out her priorities and address the state’s looming issues.

Finding ways to fix the state’s crumbling infrastructure top the list of priorities for both Republican and Democratic legislators, who have been waiting on Haley to announce a roads funding plan she promised on the campaign trail in July.

The speech begins at 7 p.m. in the House Chamber and will be broadcast live on SCETV.

On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, said House Democrats were open to “all of the above” and would endorse anything that increases funding to the state’s roads.

“The time to be picky about how we fund our roads is over,” Rutherford said. “Simply put, we will not stand in the way of a gas tax increase nor will we stand in the way of new revenue through casinos. The only thing we’ll stand in the way of is kicking the can down the road. We have to plug our $45 billion infrastructure deficit before a bridge collapses and people die.”

David Woodard, a political science professor at Clemson University, said infrastructure problems are among the issues people are most concerned about. But with a federal investigation looming in the House and former House Speaker Bobby Harrell having to step down after he pleaded guilty to ethics-related charges, Woodard said legislative ethics will likely be an issue Haley will raise.

“She’s got a pretty good chance, especially in light of the election, to say pretty good things about her agenda for the next four years,” Woodard said. “... To say basically, hey I’ve been elected for four more years we need to get some stuff done.”

Plus, because Haley is not running for governor again, she can instead start thinking about what her legacy is going to be, added Gibbs Knotts, political science professor at the College of Charleston. Tonight, Haley will have the power to persuade.

“She’s going to really be able to use this as a time to persuade not only the Legislature, who will hopefully be listening; but also what the governor can do, just like the president, is make direct appeals to the American people, in this case the people of South Carolina,” Knotts said. “If a lot of people get behind what Haley says, they might call their members of the House or Senate in South Carolina, and they might be more likely to support the governor’s plan.”

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.