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US: Nikki Haley seeks Governor nomination

By George Joseph in New York
Last updated on: May 15, 2009 12:23 IST
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Representative Nikki Haley will seek the Republican nomination for Governor of South Carolina, making her the second Indian American after Bobby Jindal of Louisiana to be a serious contestant for the highest post in a state.

"After months of encouragement from supporters all across the state and countless discussions with friends and family, I have decided to run for Governor of South Carolina," Representative Haley said.

"For more than five years I've sat in the statehouse and watched - sometimes in disbelief - as our state government has spent with abandon and in the process wasted taxpayer dollar after dollar. I know what good government can look like. I'm running for Governor so the people of this state will know what it feels like."

Haley, 37, began her political career in 2004 winning to the South Carolina House of Representatives defeating Rep Larry Kone in the Republican primary. Kone had held the seat for three decades. Haley was just two years old when he won the seat from Lexington for the first time.

It created much sensation in the political circles. The winning streak continued in the next two elections and Haley continues to be one of the most influential politicians in the predominantly Republican state.

"Representative Nikki Haley will not do anything halfway. She contests to win. She has a record of several achievements," Ken Perason, associated with the campaign told India Abroad. He does not think her race has any relevance in the contest.

Several leaders have already declared their candidacy to replace Governor Mark Sanford. They include US Rep Gresham Barrett and Furman University professor Brent Nelsen and State Sen. Larry Grooms. Lt Gov Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster are also possible candidates. The primary is scheduled for June, next year.

Haley is one of the strongest fiscal conservatives in state government. She has fought wasteful spending, pushed for smaller, more efficient government, and led the fight for the accountability and transparency.

Her bill for accountability for legislators had attracted much attention. Till then, legislators were not required to vote on the record.

Haley is the first Indian American to hold statewide elected office in South Carolina and the first Republican Indian American State legislator in the country. She said she is Republican because it supports business and stands for many of the ideals she cherishes. She is pro-life also.

During the campaign in 2004, the opponents used Haley's family's Sikh faith and ethnicity for their propaganda. They used her maiden name Randhawa to single out her.

A graduate of Clemson University in accounting, Haley worked as an accounting supervisor for some time. In 1996, she returned as controller in the family's business -- Exotica International, a clothing company -- where she helped oversee its growth into a multi-million dollar operation.

Haley and her husband Michael, a full-time federal technician with the South Carolina National Guard and an officer in the Army National Guard in Darlington, South Carolina, attend Mount Horeb United Methodist Church in Lexington. She was previously a board member of both the Orangeburg and Lexington County Chambers of Commerce and a member of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Currently, she sits on the board for Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church, Medmission, and is a member of the Lexington County Republican Party and the National Rifles Association.

They live in Lexington with their two children, Rena, 10, and Nalin, 7.

The family business was started by her parents Dr. Ajit Randhawa and Raj in 1976. She has a sister and two bothers also.
"We've got great challenges facing us in South Carolina, but also a world of opportunity," Haley said.

"I have confidence that with conservative leadership and a renewed commitment to the principles that have made America great - hard work, traditional values, promoting an atmosphere of opportunity over an environment of bailouts - South Carolina can be transformed into a state that's not always at the bottom but sits proudly at the top."

She was named "Friend of the Taxpayer" (2009) by the SC Association of Taxpayers and a "Taxpayer Hero" (2005) by Governor Mark Sanford.

She has also received the Palmetto Leadership Award from the SC Policy Council for her expertise on policy matters and the Strom Thurmond Excellence in Public Service and Government Award from the SC Federation of Republican Women for the outstanding constituent service she provides to her district.

"When I first ran for office four years ago, I ran to make a change. I ran to change how business gets done at the State House. I ran to deliver real property tax relief to our hard-working families, and I ran to help make government more efficient and more effective. In those four short years, we have made tremendous progress. I am proud of what we have accomplished, but I know there is still more we can do," she said, after filing the papers for election last year.

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George Joseph in New York