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Rediff.com  » News » Exclusive! Nikki Haley speaks on US prez polls, India trip and more

Exclusive! Nikki Haley speaks on US prez polls, India trip and more

Last updated on: October 25, 2011 18:26 IST

Nikki Haley speaks on US prez polls, India trip and more

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South Carolina Governor Nimrata 'Nikki' Randhawa Haley, a rising star in the Republican Party, is being courted by all of the party's presidential candidates for her endorsement.

Incidentally, every candidate who has carried South Carolina in the primary has gone on to win the party's nomination. But Haley says she has still not made up her mind about who she will endorse.

Haley was in Washington, DC last week to attend a fund-raiser reception on her behalf hosted by Indian American Republican stalwart Armeane Choksi and his wife Mary.

In an exclusive interview with rediff.com's Aziz Haniffa, Haley talked about why her plans to visit India have been shelved for the time being, reiterated her opposition to President Barack Obama's healthcare plan and addressed the continuing speculation about her being a potential vice-presidential candidate.


Image: Nikki Haley
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Rediff.com
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'I continue to support Sarah Palin'

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When I met you about five months ago in Columbia, I remember asking you if you would endorse (former Alaska Governor and erstwhile Republican vice-presidential candidate) Sarah Palin if she throws her hat into the presidential ring, and you said that while you greatly admire her and appreciate her endorsement of your gubernatorial campaign, you would not automatically endorse her. Now that she has announced that she would not be a candidate and things seem to be firming up in terms of the other slew of candidates, have you decided on anyone in particular in terms of your endorsement, particularly now that (New Jersey) Governor (Chris) Christie has endorsed (former Massachusetts Governor) Mitt Romney and your close friend (Texas) Governor Rick Perry's ratings have drastically dropped in the polls after his poor debate performances?

First of all, I continue to support Palin because even though she is not running for President, she will continue to have a voice in this presidential (campaign). She will continue to empower people to understand the power of their voice. So, she is going to be a strong force to be reckoned with for years to come. In terms of endorsements, I absolutely will endorse, and when I endorse, it will be as the governor of South Carolina.

What am I looking for in a President as a governor? I want someone who understands that our debt is too high. How are they going to deal with the spending and economy? What are they going to do about making us energy independent? How are they going to make sure that we really recruit businesses into this country and turn the economy and get people back to work? So, it's really a time where we are looking for a President who understands that the country has gotten off-track and what we are going to do to get it back on track. Remember, if your take care of business, you take care of everyone.


Image: A supporter holds up books by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin for autographs
Photographs: Brian Snyder/Reuters
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'We need to realise that there is a better way'

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Governor Romney seems to have become largely the presumptive front-runner. Also, among all of the candidates, the polls indicate he is the only one who could beat President Obama. So, now that things are much clearer and no one else is going to jump into the hustings, would you think about Romney in terms of your endorsement?

I genuinely am open, and the reason is, I think it's still early. Yes, people were waiting to see who else is going to get in and now it's finally closed. People understand that this slate is not going to change, and so for me, I watch every debate. They (the candidates) have been coming to South Carolina. I have been meeting with all of them. We continue to talk, and I keep telling them, 'don't worry about my endorsement, go around the state of South Carolina and meet everybody there'. Talk to them and answer the hard questions.

What we want are details. We know what the talking points are, but give us details. Tell us how you are going to change the economy. Tell us how you are going to put people back to work. Tell us how you are going to pay down the debt. Tell us what you are going to do for energy independence in detail. So, that's now what I am looking for. So, I really don't have a favourite. I respect all of them.

Every one of them is stronger than what President Obama has done up till now. And, while I respect President Obama, we have to be realistic that we have seen our debt skyrocket, we have seen us lose our credit rating, we continue to see people without jobs and our country is not better off. We need to realise that there is a better way and we have to figure out which candidate is going to take us there.


Image: Republican Party's presidential candidates former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (Left) and Texas Governor Rick Perry
Photographs: Richard Brian/Reuters
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'We will continue to move forward'

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The last time we met, you were also excited and very enthused about making a trip to India in the fall this year. Then ambassador Meera Shankar had invited you to India and said that she she would make all the arrangements. Now, India has another woman ambassador in the US -- former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao. So, what's happening about your trip to India?

First of all, yes, we were hoping it was going to happen this fall. (But) It's not going to happen. There are two things. One the timing right now, two, I can't go just to take a travel trip. I've got to go when I know that there is true (Indian) business interest in coming to South Carolina. So, what we are trying to do is create a dialogue, either over the phone, or having Indian companies come visit us in South Carolina before we make the trip. We would like to think that next fall would be it.

We are also looking forward to meeting the new ambassador. I am very excited to meet her and I think that is a great opportunity for us to develop that relationship. And so, we will continue to move forward. That is a dream of mine -- to go to India -- and so I will continue to look forward to that.


Image: Nikki Haley and former ambassador to US Meera Shankar
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Reuters
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'Hoping that India visit happens by next fall'

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It seems that while you would love to go back to India and there's probably a lot of nostalgia and everything else, you want it to be very tangible in terms of deliverables?

I am the governor of South Carolina. So, to take that kind of time off, I have to make sure that if I go, it has results to show for it. So, I have to go and make sure that I am bringing jobs back -- that I have made relationships with companies that want to invest in South Carolina, that what I did really meant something. We didn't have that up until this fall. We have a lot of interest but we don't have enough (commitments) really to secure promises. We have to develop that.

We are hoping that it will happen by next fall. What I have seen is a lot of Indian companies in the United States have said that they want to look at South Carolina, what they can do. And, I continue to be impressed at the Indian business people in this country that make us proud, that really make our community very proud. They are smart. They are strong. They understand what it means to know the value of the dollar and they understand the value of America -- what it means to be in this country. And so, I am thrilled to meet them every time I go out of South Carolina.


Image: Nikki Haley with her husband Michael Haley and children Rena and Nalin
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi/Reuters
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'My parents came here legally, they put in their time'

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You have been very tough in your stand on immigration. While you strongly support legal immigration, you are strongly opposed to people, who break the law and enter the country illegally, being given any immigrant status or legalised. But there is this strong perception that the Republicans are anti-immigration and this is causing much concern among moderate and progressive Republicans. In fact, they called on you -- since you have access to all of the Republican presidential candidates -- to be the conduit to get the message across that Republicans will lose the Hispanic, ethnic Indian American and Asian American votes because of the growing perception of this dominant, right-wing and anti-immigration fervour. How would you get this message across and try to bring about some kind of balance in terms of immigration policy among these communities which could swing the election?

First of all, I am proof positive that what makes this country great is that we are a country of immigrants. But we are a country of laws and we have to understand that if we violate those laws, we violate everything that makes this country great. So, when my parents came here legally, they put in their time, they paid their price, and made sure that when they came to this country, they could be as successful as they wanted to be. I want that for everyone who wants to have it. But they should also want to do it legally.

We want to be a community that understands what it means to respect laws. We should want to be a community that respects the fact that when you want to come to this country, you follow what the rules are. I believe in the immigrants and that they want to do that. But we don't want it illegally. We do want them legally and so, I will continue to say that we need to have an expanded worker visa programme, we need to continue to bring IT people, we need to continue to bring business people, we need to continue to bring people in medicine. But, we need to continue to bring them legally.


Image: People protest against the crackdown on illegal immigrants
Photographs: Alonso Castillo/Reuters
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'It's important that I keep my promises'

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You have continued to rail against the so-called Obamacare. Are you trying to make changes in the President's health care reform legislation or do you feel that it has to be repealed and you have got to start again from scratch?

You have to fully repeal Obamacare because the cost on the state is unaffordable. What we will find is the health care will go down, the costs will go up. What President Obama did well was that he brought up the conversation on health care, which is a very real concern in this country.

We need to go back to the basics of every state and look at how many uninsured we have and say, what do we need to do to make it transparent between the patient and the doctor, the doctor and the insurance company, and just like the auto-industry, allow insurance companies to cross state lines so that people can pick and choose which insurance policy they want at the affordable price that they can afford. That's where we need to go back to. But a mandatory health care plan that takes people out of private policies and puts them on the government policies is less services and higher costs.

Five months ago, there was all this excitement and speculation about you as a front-runner as a running mate to the eventual Republican presidential candidate. At the time, you made it very clear that there was no vacillating on your part and that you were not interested in being a vice-presidential candidate -- that you were committed to serving out your term as governor. Any change now in your thinking, if the Republican establishment comes to you and implores you that 'Nikki we want you to reinforce the ticket and make the ticket as strong as we can to defeat President Obama'?

I am flattered that people continue to mention me (as a potential vice-presidential candidate), but I also understand that I am the flavour of the month. It's more important that I keep my promises to the people of South Carolina and govern well and show results in order for me to do the best for the country. For me to accept the vice-presidential nomination at this point wouldn't be fair to the people of the state and it wouldn't be fair to the people of the country because I am not ready for that.


Image: Nikki Haley types on her iPad as US President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with a bipartisan group of governors in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington
Photographs: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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