When Nikki Haley met Eleanor Kitzman more than a decade ago, at a conference of women business owners, they became “immediate friends.”
They chatted about the struggles of running a small business — which is really tough, they agreed, seeing as how the government puts so many regulations on them. Before long, Kitzman asked Haley if she’d ever thought about politics.
“I said no, I hadn’t. And it was true,” Haley wrote in her memoir, Can’t Is Not An Option. “I didn’t even know where to start.”
Haley claimed at the time she didn’t even know what she was, but Kitzman told her, “Oh, you are clearly a Republican.”
Well, next thing you know, Nikki Haley is a state representative. And five years later, she felt the call to run for governor.
Haley realized her unlikely campaign was an uphill battle. But, as she wrote in her memoir, she knew “South Carolina was ready for a governor who would take on the good-old-boy, back-scratching political culture in Columbia.”
As Sarah Palin — whose paid endorsement helped get Haley elected — would say, ‘You betcha.’
So now, another five years later, Haley is under fire by the good ol’ boys for hiring Kitzman, her friend and campaign contributor, for a second time.
To a lot of folks in Columbia, it looks like Haley hasn’t taken on the system — she’s just slightly diversified it.
On Monday, the Department of Health and Environmental Control board hired Kitzman to “evaluate agency programs, systems and processes.”
The temporary gig pays $74 per hour, which would add up to more than $140,000 annually.
Of course, Haley tapped Kitzman to be the new director of DHEC weeks ago, so this new job is only meant to last until she’s confirmed by the Senate.
Which may be never.
Senators are calling the hiring an end-run around the confirmation process, and they don’t like that because there is a good chance they won’t vote for Kitzman.
Sen. Chip Campsen says his biggest concern is that the Senate is in a position of voting to get rid of someone already hired, instead of confirming a nominee.
What if, he says, the Senate refuses to confirm Kitzman yet she remains in that pseudo-director capacity?
That would definitely subvert the state’s checks and balances.
“If she doesn’t voluntarily leave, it could create a constitutional crisis,” Campsen says.
So why wouldn’t the Senate just confirm Kitzman? Well, they don’t like her lack of experience with environmental issues and, honestly, her track record with state government isn’t so great.
Haley first appointed Kitzman director of the Budget and Control Board. She lasted about six months before quitting to take a job as insurance commissioner in Texas.
And there the former insurance agent was run off for being too cozy with the insurance industry.
Funny, Gov. Mark Sanford had fired her after two years as South Carolina’s insurance commissioner, allegedly because she allowed coastal homeowner insurance rates to soar after Hurricane Katrina. Kitzman supporters said that wasn’t her fault.
Ultimately, they are right.
The problem is that most administrations have appointed insurance commissioners who come from the industry and are inclined to be all-too-sympathetic to the struggles of poor insurance companies — but not so much to the people who have to pay the premiums.
And past Legislatures too often let it happen.
It is a tradition in South Carolina. Haley did not invent this system, she simply followed the trend.
The Conservation Voters of South Carolina have started a petition asking senators not to confirm Kitzman.
They are worried, and rightfully so, that some pro-business ideologue with no background in environmental issues will allow companies and developers to run roughshod over South Carolina’s fragile environment.
After all, regulations are bad. Well, bad for business.
Haley said in her book, “If you take care of your businesses, you take care of the economy, education and quality of life for everyone.”
The environment? Eh, that’s life.
So no one should be surprised by any of this, not even Kitzman’s temp job. It’s the same thing the Haley administration did for its new Health and Human Services director.
That’s politics as usual. What kind of friend would Haley be if she didn’t take care of the woman who gave her the nudge to seek public office, even if it is just more of the same good ol’ boy politics?
And make no mistake, that’s what is going on here.
Who appoints every member of the DHEC board that hired Kitzman? The governor.
The Legislature has allowed this sort of stuff to flourish for decades.
They are raising a stink now, in part because this appointment is particularly egregious and there are constitutional implications.
But it’s also because they don’t like Haley’s clean up the good ol’ boy system act. Which is fair.
Even folks who sometimes lapse into hypocrisy are offended by hypocrites.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org