Some in Tea Party cite 'buyer's remorse' with SC Gov. Haley

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Talbert Black, state coordinator of the S.C. Campaign for Liberty, worked hard to get his Lexington County state representative, Nikki Haley, elected governor in 2010, blasting out emails and making phone calls to galvanize Tea Party-minded voters.

“She was going to fight the establishment, shrink the size of government and fight the good ol’ boy,” Black said Friday of Haley. “Instead, she got elected and became part of the system.”

Black is part of a faction of the state’s Tea Party movement that says Haley, who they helped elect, has broken faith with them. Many now hope she will be a one-term governor.

For Haley, never a favorite of the state’s GOP establishment, losing Tea Party support could be devastating.

Despite internal rifts among the state’s Tea Party groups, they still have clout. In the January Republican presidential primary, Tea Partiers rallied behind U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, helping him win a crushing victory over Republican establishment candidate Mitt Romney.

S.C. Republicans approve of Tea Partiers, too.

While 83 percent of self-identified S.C. Republicans said in December that they did not consider themselves members of the Tea Party, 61 percent said they approved of the movement, according to a Winthrop University poll.

“She’s done so much that is negative that it’s going to be very difficult for her to change our opinions and prove she’s in it for the good of the state vs. her personal gain,” Black said. “That’s what I think now. She’s in it for herself, for some plan for her future — whatever that may be.”

Haley, campaigning Friday for Romney in Pennsylvania, was not available to discuss her Tea Party support. But her spokesman, Rob Godfrey, said in an email that a handful of disaffected Tea Partiers, including Black, do not speak for the movement.

“The governor appreciates her Tea Party supporters across the state,” Godfrey wrote. “What she has always loved about the Tea Party is that they’re not a party at all — they’re Republicans, Democrats and independents — who think for themselves and speak for themselves. No one or two people speak for the Tea Party.

“The governor remains focused on issues the Tea Party has always championed: reigning in government spending, teaching government the value of a dollar and reminding elected officials they work for the people, and not the other way around.”

‘She started caving in’

Black is not alone.

Harry Kibler says he has a case of “buyer’s remorse” when it comes to Haley.

Kibler is founder of five RINO Hunt chapters around the state, a grassroots organization that says it supports the Republican platform. During Haley’s gubernatorial campaign, Kibler supported her, speaking at events on her behalf.

“I admired her commitment to transparency. Standing firm for true, conservative values. Smaller government, reduced taxes, reduced spending,” Kibler said. “But within weeks of being sworn in, literally, she started caving in on her convictions.”

The biggest disappointments for Kibler?

Haley allowed a bill to become law, albeit without her signature, that gave a tax break to online retail giant Amazon. He also dislikes her involvement in an environmental decision that is helping Georgia expand its Savannah port, at the expense of the Charleston port, some say. And Kibler is confounded by Haley’s refusal to send money back to the federal government that was intended to help pave the way for federal health-care reform in South Carolina.

Godfrey said Haley spoke out against the Amazon deal but allowed it to become law because her predecessor and onetime political mentor, fellow Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, had agreed to the deal.

On the port issue, Godfrey said Haley is fighting to make all three of the state’s ports strong and competitive.

As to the health-care money, Godfrey said: “The federal health planning grant was applied for and accepted by the previous administration, and the vast majority of the funds were never spent.”

‘100 percent a one-term governor’

Haley has also taken Tea Party criticism for backing former Massachusetts Gov. Romney in the GOP presidential race — a candidate Tea Party members consider untrustworthy.

“Governor Haley endorsed the candidate from outside Washington because a creature of Washington can’t change anything in Washington’s failed establishment,” Godfrey said, referring to the Washington history of the other GOP contenders: Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Earlier this month, Kibler, Talbert and about 20 others from various Tea Party and grassroots organizations held a news conference in front of Haley’s office, criticizing her and lawmakers for not going far enough with a restructuring bill to create a new Department of Administration, which would oversee a wide swath of state government and give more power to the executive branch.

The group targeted Haley for originally backing a version of the bill that would have kept in place the state Budget and Control Board, a part-legislative, part-executive, five-member board that runs much of day-to-day state government. The latest version of the bill eliminates the budget board but also creates other boards, increasing — not decreasing — the size of government, critics say.

Abolishing the budget board has been a long-frustrated goal of self-styled reformers.

“She has gotten Department of Administration farther than any other governor in history,” responded Godfrey. “Those results speak for themselves. Period.”

But Haley’s Tea Party critics are not persuaded by what they see as small half-measures. They say she needs to make amends — or else.

“There’s still plenty of time for our governor to start doing what she campaigned on and if she would, there’s plenty of time for her to salvage the relationship with me and others who are expressing the same disappointment,” Kibler said. “But if she continues to go down the path she is going down right now, she is 100 percent a one-term governor.

“Let’s face it. She didn’t win in a landslide.”

Haley defeated Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden, 51 percent to 47 percent, in the 2010 election.

Critics ‘extremists’?

All of Haley’s Tea Party support has not vanished.

Joe Dugan, chairman of the 140-member-strong Myrtle Beach Tea Party, says Haley is doing a good job but is having to compromise on some issues, a political necessity.

“We have a long history with the governor and still support her,” said Dugan, whose organization was present at dozens of rallies during Haley’s gubernatorial run and operated phone banks in support for her.

Since taking office, Dugan said Haley has stumbled a few times.

But, he adds, she also has had noteworthy accomplishments. Dugan cited, in particular, passage of laws requiring lawmakers to cast more on-the-record votes, tort reform, requiring owners to check the immigration status of workers and requiring voters to present a photo ID at polling places. (The voter ID bill is being challenged in court.)

“She’s made some mistakes,” Dugan said, citing Amazon. “There’s no uncertainty about it. But if you look at all the mistakes they’re making on a daily basis in Washington, Gov. Haley’s mistakes are minuscule.”

Allen Olson, former chairman of the Columbia Tea Party, also still is in Haley’s corner.

Now spokesman for the grassroots group ROAR (Reduce our Awful Rates), Olson says Haley’s Tea Party detractors represent only a marginal wing of the grassroots movement.

“The Liberty crowd — they’re extremists, in my opinion,” Olson said. “She’s working as much as possible to get things accomplished. That involves compromise. It always does. And they hate to see any type of compromise.”

Olson worked last year with Haley to get a tort-reform bill passed. The end result wasn’t ideal, Olson said, citing a higher cap on punitive damages than he wanted.

“We got a watered-down version, but we got something,” Olson said. “Now, we’re working to improve it and get more of it put into law. That’s how it works. That’s how you have to do it.”

Kibler of RINO Hunt rejects the suggestion that he and others who have soured on Haley are extremists. They just are vocal, he says, and willing to pay the price of being outspoken.

“If you want to have access to the governor, if you want to be asked to serve on committees and be invited to certain parties, you can’t speak out against the governor and others in power,” Kibler said. “If you do, you lose access as we have.

“I’ve learned that you can’t have both.”

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