Nikki Haley Rolls Up Her Sleeves
This rising GOP star is eager to move the country to the right, starting with South Carolina.


Robert Costa

Washington — Growing up in Bamberg, S.C., Nikki Haley was a frank girl — for good reason. By age 13, she was doing the accounting for her family’s fashion-retail business and had to keep a close eye on the bottom line. Two decades later, Haley, the Palmetto State’s 38-year-old governor-elect, pledges to bring that same business-friendly, just-the-facts approach to the state capital. This week, she sat down with National Review for a wide-ranging interview about her gubernatorial goals and the future of the Republican party.

Haley, before having even taken office, is widely considered to be one of the GOP’s rising national stars. With her wide smile, Sikh-American heritage, southern charm, and conservative values, she has been cited in Beltway circles as a potential 2012 vice-presidential pick. Haley shrugs off the big-ticket buzz. “I can’t even imagine that,” she chuckles. Governing — not veep chatter — is on her agenda. The new gig, she notes, is “not a stepping stone.”

But Haley does hope to play a role in moving her party to the right in coming years. Already she has been tapped as the next recruitment chair for the Republican Governors Association. Top congressional leaders have noticed her, too. On Wednesday, she huddled with Speaker-elect John Boehner of Ohio and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky at the Capitol.

At a press conference following the meeting, GOP brass made sure that Haley was standing front-and-center at the media stakeout. As Boehner beamed behind her, Haley said now is the time “to start conversations about why we don’t need mandated health care and what we as states can do with solutions instead. . . . We are not just going to say no, but we’re actually going to tell our federal leaders what we can do instead so that they can go back and fight for why states should have more rights.”

Haley says states need to rethink their relationships with the federal government. “They have gotten to where they take federal funding because they just think, ‘It’s there,’” she says. “We want to go back to the idea that you don’t take federal dollars just because they’re matching something; if it doesn’t meet the core functions of your agency, we don’t want it.”

“People have lost faith in Congress, and it’s up to the governors to really step up and show what good reforms are,” Haley says. “You will see me fight to eliminate the corporate-income tax in our state. We are already a right-to-work state. If we can eliminate the corporate-income tax, we will be a magnet for companies that want to move here.”

Washington can also do its part. On extending the Bush-era tax rates, Haley argues that failing to extend the current tax rates would amount to raising taxes — terrible policy during tough economic times. “We can’t have [that],” she says. “You are going to increase unemployment by doing that. You’re going to close down businesses by doing that.”

“I think we have to understand that if you take care of your small businesses, you take care of jobs, the economy, and everything else,” Haley says.“If you give small businesses cash flow, if you give them profit margins, they don’t go out and go on vacation — they hire people, they expand their businesses. That’s the key.”



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