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Opinion, Heed Haley’s Ethics Message

January 14, 2015

Gov. Nikki Haley’s optimistic message on jobs and economic development had a special resonance Wednesday as she was sworn in for her second term. The governor made that the signature initiative of her first term, and the results have been impressive.

The governor has delivered on her “jobs, jobs, jobs” pledge, and her re-election can be attributed largely to that success. Mrs. Haley and her Commerce Department have worked especially hard on getting development projects in rural South Carolina, and every county except McCormick is on the list for new industry.

Commerce reports that $14 billion in corporate investment has been committed to the state over the past four years. That translates to more than 57,000 jobs.

And the governor has real momentum on the jobs front going into her second term as the national economy improves.

As an enthusiastic and unapologetic cheerleader for South Carolina, Gov. Haley could take particular satisfaction in listing the accomplishments of her first term.

“Today, our economy is among the fastest growing in the nation,” she said in Wednesday’s speech at the Statehouse. “Our people have more jobs than ever in our history. Our industries are flourishing, with more new businesses and jobs coming in every week. We’re building cars and planes and tires like never before, and there’s more of that on the way.”

Though the governor was typically upbeat in her remarks, she cited one area where the state — primarily the Legislature — must make major improvements. Recent ethics scandals demand a meaningful response from lawmakers this session.

“To accept the challenge of governing is to take in our hands a precious civic responsibility,” she said. “It is not merely the titles and the pageantry of public office that we accept, but the trust that our friends and neighbors have committed to us.

“Some have ignored that responsibility. Some have abused that trust.”

So far, Gov. Haley’s main contribution on this issue was to establish in 2012 the Commission on Ethics Reform. Chaired by two former attorneys general, the commission prepared a comprehensive reform plan to ensure better oversight, greater public transparency through more detailed reporting of officials’ income sources and, most important, to remove the special treatment that the Legislature has enjoyed on ethics issues through its House and Senate Ethics committees.

The response from the Legislature was to advance comparatively weak proposals for two years, and then fail in the end to adopt anything.

“To date, much of the debate in the chambers behind me has been wrongly focused, with too much concern for the comfort of elected officials and too little for protecting the public interest,” Gov. Haley said. “The shaken confidence in our government is too large and the opportunity in front of us too great for that to continue.”

As if to underscore the need, former state Sen. Robert Ford pleaded guilty in Circuit Court to misconduct in his use of campaign funds, at the roughly same time the governor and other state officials were being sworn in. Ethics violations have also forced top officials — House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Lt. Gov. Ken Ard — out of office.

In her speech, Gov. Haley cited the need for more opportunity in rural areas, which dovetails with her recent education initiatives. Her proposed budget reflects a growing interest in improving rural schools.

Her administration will continue unabated in its aggressive efforts to bring more jobs to the state.

But only the Legislature can write the laws needed for ethics reform.

This is the year to do it.

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