S.C. Gov. Haley 'makes stuff up' in her book, critics charge

Gov. Nikki Haley’s new memoir, "Can't Is Not An Option," is untruthful or twists many events, a half-dozen S.C. politicians said last week.

Members of Haley’s own Republican Party — including the speaker of the S.C. House and a former lieutenant governor — say allegations against them are “absolutely not true” and “not true at all.” Democrats, including Haley’s 2010 opponent in the governor’s race, describe the book as “fiction.”

Haley’s office said Friday the governor sticks by all the accounts in her memoir. “The governor stands by everything in the book because it’s the truth,” spokesman Rob Godfrey said. And a longtime ally defended Haley’s account.

Most memoirs, like the softly focused photo on the jacket of Haley’s book, are sympathetic to the autobiographer, who is — after all — writing the story of their life.

But, added a Democratic state representative, “This lady just makes stuff up.”

In her memoir, Haley, a Lexington Republican, recounts overcoming racism, sexism and ageism to propel herself into the S.C. House and, from there, to the governorship.

Memoirs often are not aimed at those most familiar with the writer’s story, in Haley’s case the citizens of South Carolina. Instead, they often are aimed a broader audience. As her memoir was published, Haley launched a national book tour and media blitz. That stirred speculation Haley was aiming for the vice presidential nomination on the Republican ticket, a job Haley says she will not accept.

However, the memoir makes no mention of some of the controversies that have haunted Haley and that South Carolinians will recall, including her dismissal of Darla Moore from the USC board of trustees.

Other controversies get only fleeting treatment.

In the memoir, for instance, Haley says voters have a right to know who legislators, paid part-time for their service, “worked for in their day jobs. ... It breeds conflict of interest. The people deserved to know who paid us. Once they see ... people will understand why policy moves the way it does in Columbia.”

But, 60 pages later, Haley calls campaign questions about her own possible conflict of interests — taking $42,500 in what she refers to only as “consulting fees” from the Columbia engineering firm Wilbur Smith and holding a $100,000-plus-a-year job with Lexington Medical Center while it was seeking legislative approval to expand — “a nuisance issue” and “character assassination.”

In the book, the first-term governor also sheds her typical refusal to talk about her historic role as the state’s first female and first non-white governor, recounting hard-fought fights from her Bamberg childhood — growing up “with a white population that didn’t think (our family was) white enough and a black community that didn’t see us as minority enough” — to her gubernatorial race, where she battled allegations of infidelity and male opponents who didn’t play fair.

These opponents routinely are labeled as “a real good old boy” or “old guard” or defenders of the status quo, including an unnamed “antireform Republican state senator,” South Carolina’s new Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell.

But many who Haley calls out in the book say Haley got the story wrong.

Haley repeatedly takes aim at House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, as the leader of a legislative club that worked against meaningful reforms she was pushing.

In one never-before-recounted anecdote, Haley writes that Harrell humiliated her during a meeting of House Republicans over her plan to introduce a bill requiring lawmakers to cast more on-the-record votes. (Haley’s signature bill, which helped win her Tea Party support, since has been passed into law.)

“In front of the entire caucus, he attacked me for daring to challenge the rules of the club,” Haley wrote of Harrell, whom she refers to only as “the speaker” in most of the memoir, only naming him near the book’s end. “It was clear he took my proposal as a personal challenge of him, and he responded in kind.”

Haley writes she responded to Harrell head-on: “How do you send people out of this room and expect them to tell their constituents that they don’t deserve to know how they vote? ... Because that’s what you’re doing.”

“His reply surprised me, even for him. ‘We’ll decide what they need to see and what they don’t,’ he said with a smile.”

Harrell said Friday that Haley’s story is “absolutely not true.”

“She wanted us to have more roll-call votes and the reaction by me and several others was, ‘That’s fine,’ ” Harrell said.

Then, Harrell said, he explained to Haley that, under then-existing House rules, a bill could be moved to the contested section of the House calendar and automatically get a roll-call vote. “What was embarrassing to her was that she didn’t know the rules of the House,” Harrell said Friday. “We spent the next 10 minutes explaining the rules to her. She clearly didn’t understand.”

Harrell said he is disappointed, but not surprised, by Haley’s book. He said Haley transformed herself from a member of House leadership, a majority whip, to an outsider. “She must have decided it must have been more politically advantageous to be an outsider,” he said.

In the book, Haley describes many House members as “frogs in a pot of water heading for a boil” and House committee leaders as “broken” idealists who “had gone along with what the leadership told them to do.”

Harrell said he is unsure if other parts of the book are true or not. “A lot of the stories she recounts, she puts them in quotation marks, like she is recalling conversations verbatim. If that doesn’t tip people off that things are not accurate, I don’t know what would.”

Haley’s office defended the story Friday.

“The speaker and the governor, obviously, remember those events differently,” said Godfrey, Haley’s spokesman. “The good news is that on-the-record voting has become the law in South Carolina and, as the governor points out in the book, she and the speaker were able to put aside their past difference on that issue and work together to get lots of great things done in the last session and in this session.”

In a chapter named “Blood Sport,” Haley writes of her disgust at claims made by two men who said she had been unfaithful to her husband — unproven claims that she denied. The two men, who stand by their claims, made the allegations as Haley was gaining ground in the 2010 race for the GOP nomination for governor.

“It was a lie, it was ugly, it was sexist, and it was crowding out all of the issues the people really cared about in the campaign,” Haley wrote, after the second claim was made.

But in another not-before-recounted anecdote, Haley writes that two of her GOP opponents — then-U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett and then-Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who Haley all but accuses of concocting the allegations — high-fived each other at the start of a Charleston debate on the day the second claim of an extramarital affair was reported.

“As we waited for the questioning to start, I saw Bauer and Barrett talking to each other and laughing. Then, just as the lights came down and the cameras started to roll, I looked over and saw the two men high-five under the table. They actually high-fived!” Haley wrote. “I had been pretty calm up to that point, but seeing that made me angry.”

Both Barrett and Bauer deny Haley’s claim of the high-five.

“The only thing I was concentrating on was not messing up,” Barrett said Thursday.

Efforts to reach Bauer, now a Republican candidate for the state’s new 7th congressional district, were unsuccessful. But in a recent email to The State, Bauer said of the high-five claim: “Not at all true.”

In an example of political trickery, Haley writes that a consultant — also unnamed — took down her website shortly after she announced she would run for the Republican nomination.

“People trying to log on to sign up for the campaign weren’t getting in,” Haley writes. “The names of hundreds of supporters were being lost. Instantly I knew the reason.

“The person who had built my website was also the website and social-media consultant of my opponent in the primary, Congressman Gresham Barrett. ... What should have been a great day of collecting names was ruined by political dirty tricks.”

That consultant, Wesley Donehue, would not discuss Haley’s allegation, saying he doesn’t talk about client matters, “other than to say that, whenever a conflict between clients has arisen, I have always extricated myself with professionalism.”

However, Terry Sullivan, a consultant to Barrett’s campaign, said Haley is twisting the story. Sullivan said Haley was told her site would be taken off Donehue’s Web server if she ran for governor. That was necessary, Sullivan said, because Donehue’s company already was working for Barrett.

“We told her that we didn’t want to do any work with her. We already had a gubernatorial candidate,” Sullivan said. “We said, ‘Just move it to a different server.’ ”

But Haley did not move her site, Sullivan said. When Haley announced, her site was removed, Sullivan said, adding the Barrett supporters helped Haley’s team move the site to a new server afterward.

So was it “political dirty tricks,” as Haley writes?

“No. That’s just not true,” Sullivan said.

Gold medal in the ‘victim card’ Olympics?’

Haley and a trio of Democrats also disagree on accounts in her book.

Haley writes that while she ran an issues-oriented campaign, her Democratic opponent, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, had a strategy that “wasn’t to offer the voters a choice between two different policy directions for the state but to simply attack me.”

“He and his advisers evidently made the decision that they couldn’t beat me on the issues, so they devised a campaign based on character assassination and guilt by association,” Haley wrote.

That association, according to Haley’s book, was her tie to then-Gov. Mark Sanford, a Haley mentor who was the first to encourage her to run for governor, as well as the character attacks launched by the two men.

Sheheen said Thursday that Haley’s book “should be on the fiction rack.”

“I had a huge, substantive policy platform that we pushed,” he said. Haley responded, in part, Sheheen said, with “a campaign ad with my picture and bullets breaking the glass as she called me names.”

(The ad does not feature bullets but shows a framed picture of Sheheen, cracking, as a voice-over calls him a liberal, Columbia insider and a trial lawyer.)

“It’s really sad,” Sheheen said. “She’s winning a gold medal in the ‘victim card’ Olympics.”

Haley also takes issue with the Legislative Black Caucus, a group of Democratic legislators who complained about the lack of diversity in her Cabinet shortly after she was elected.

“I didn’t think about race or gender when I read resumes or made my appointments,” Haley writes, recounting what she says she told upset caucus members in a standing-room-only meeting in her office on the topic.

“I thought out their qualifications. Period.”

During that meeting, Haley said she told caucus members to bring her names of qualified minority and female candidates for posts.

“I never did receive any names from the legislators,” she wrote in her memoir.

State Rep. Leon Howard, D-Richland, a caucus member, said that is not true.

“I gave the governor names of about a dozen qualified people,” Howard said. “She chose not to select them.”

(Still, Howard said Haley deserves credit for eventually selecting highly qualified African-Americans to lead important Cabinet agencies without the input of the Black Caucus, including retired Maj. Gen. Abe Turner at the Department of Employment and Workforce and Leroy Smith at the Department of Public Safety.)

Haley also calls out another caucus member, state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, for referring to Haley as a “conservative women with a tan” in a magazine article.

“Unbelievable. The politics of race are ugly, no matter who practices them,” Haley wrote in her book.

Cobb-Hunter said Thursday that her quote was taken out of context. She was not being racist. She was being serious.

“The comment referenced by the governor was in response to the question about South Carolina electing a woman of color as governor, to which I responded, ‘A lot of South Carolinians didn’t know she was a woman of color. They thought she was a nice, conservative woman with a tan,’ ” Cobb-Hunter said.

Cobb-Hunter said she was trying to make the point that Haley viewed racial bias through a narrow lens — such as the oft-repeated story that Haley was disqualified from a Bamberg beauty pageant because she was neither black nor white — rather than viewing discrimination in a broader context, the way many South Carolinians of color view it.

Cobb-Hunter points to the book as proof that Haley twists the truth.

“I understand trying to sell books, but shouldn’t her true story of her life be enough to do it?” Cobb-Hunter said. “This lady just makes stuff up.”

‘Nikki described all that correctly’

But others say Haley’s book accurately describes her experiences.

State Rep. Nathan Ballentine, R-Richland, a longtime Haley friend, said the governor has been an underdog political outsider from the start, entering the House in 2004 after defeating its longest-serving member.

Ballentine said he was an outcast, too, after defeating a fellow Republican, the then-House majority leader, and knows firsthand how he and Haley were treated.

“Freshmen (House members) are never at the head of the table, but I don’t know if other freshmen had ever been treated like we were,” Ballentine said. “Nikki described all of that correctly.

“It was kind of like middle school.”

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