COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley identifies herself with the tea party movement that helped propel her to the state’s top office in 2010 in a book designed to promote her story on the national stage.
“One of the main reasons that the Tea Party and I are such a natural fit is that they understand the importance of putting principles before politics,” she writes in Can’t Is Not an Option, to be released Tuesday. “We have been brothers and sisters in arms ever since.”
Not exactly. The book comes out at a time when many state activists say they’re highly disappointed by her job performance – even suspecting she’ll be a one-term governor. Tea party activists representing various groups recently held a news conference outside her Statehouse office to protest what they consider unacceptable compromise on a restructuring bill.
“I see Nikki Haley as more of the same,” said Randy Simpson, founder of the Seneca Tea Party. “We expected more.”
But her national image seems untarnished by in-state criticism. The Republican governor recently campaigned for Mitt Romney in Pennsylvania, and she was the featured speaker at the U.S. House GOP fundraising committee’s annual dinner in Washington. On Thursday, she’ll be touting her book in Washington with Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Her in-state book tour starts four days later in Charleston, according to her publishing company.
“From everything I’ve seen, I think she’s done an exceptional job,” said Sal Russo of Sacramento, Calif., co-founder and chief strategist for the national Tea Party Express.
He dismissed complaints against Haley. Like local activists, he stressed the tea party movement is broad and divided.
“There’s a big difference between the governing of a state and harping from the sidelines,” Russo said. “We’re fine with people not agreeing on everything. As long as we agree we have to bring down the size of government, we’re all on the same side.”
Haley, who took office Jan. 12, 2011, would not talk about the book before its release. The book was initially supposed to go on sale Jan. 3, but the publisher didn’t want to compete with the state’s presidential primary.
“The main reason a brand new governor would want to write this kind of book would be to position themselves on a national stage,” said Winthrop University political scientist and poll director Scott Huffmon. Other politicians to have books published soon after winning statewide office include then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, whose book “The Audacity of Hope” came out in 2006.
Haley has described writing the memoir as therapeutic, saying people have wanted to know more about the challenges she faced growing up and entering politics. A daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley was born and raised in tiny Bamberg. Those years are described in the first two chapters of the 14-chapter, 240-page book.
She also devotes a large chunk of it to talking about fighting the federal government, and President Obama personally, on issues ranging from unions to health care.
“In today’s world, writing a book that’s a mix of memoir and policy is good political business,” said Christina Botteri of Sacramento, a founding member of the National Tea Party Federation, who described Haley as a compelling figure. “Whether she wants to take a pundit’s track or consultant’s track or political track, having that self-created platform is good business.”
Like tea partiers within South Carolina, Botteri said she was disappointed when Haley endorsed Romney in December. But she recognizes that Romney helped her early in her primary race for governor – something Haley writes about in the book.
“When Mrs. Haley came out so early and endorsed Mitt Romney ... it was like oh, that was a disappointment, but the political reality is it had to happen,” she said.
Much of the book will sound familiar to political observers, including her stump speech account of handling the books for her mother’s high-end clothing store at age 12. She also recounts the Wee Miss Bamberg pageant, in which she and her sister were disqualified for being neither white nor black – a story told often in the media during her run for governor.
New recollections include her being cast in a kindergarten play.
“At Thanksgiving, someone had the bright idea to give me the role of Pocahontas in the school play,” she wrote. “Did they realize that I wasn’t that kind of Indian?”
Those first two chapters also recount her meeting and marrying her husband, Michael – including a hurricane that delayed her wedding plans – and her first job out of college as an accountant for a Charlotte, N.C., recycling company, where she stood up for herself in an otherwise all-male board room.
She carries that theme throughout the book – standing up to racial and gender stereotypes and fighting the good ol’ boy system. She summarily describes all of her opponents as establishment, anti-reform Republicans or backward-thinking, old-school South Carolinians, often both.
And she has plenty of opponents to talk about, starting with her first state House race in 2004, in which she beat 30-year veteran Rep. Larry Koon, the longest-serving member at the time.
“Not only that, but he was related to half the district. No fooling. Half the district. And the half that wasn’t ... was a part of another old South Carolina family,” she wrote in the chapter titled “Nikki Who?”
She describes an ugly campaign that attacked her faith and ethnicity, but in the end, winning the primary runoff with 55 percent of the vote. “The heartening thing for me was that the people of South Carolina rose above it,” she wrote. “They were sick of the kind of politics that had given our state a bad name.”
The chapter “Blood Sport” deals with allegations that arose during the 2010 GOP gubernatorial primary campaign, first from a political blogger then a lobbyist, that they had affairs with the married mother of two – and her contempt of the media coverage.
But after she almost wins the four-way primary outright, and then wins the runoff with 65 percent of the vote, she notes she’s thrilled to represent the face of the new, forward-thinking South Carolina in national media.
Allen Olson, former chairman of the Columbia Tea Party, is among local activists who still support her. Olson left that group and is now with ROAR (Reduce Our Awful Tax Rates).
“I personally think she’s doing a fabulous job,” he said. He said it’s the libertarian faction of the tea party that’s upset with her for compromising on issues. Compromise is needed to get anything done, he said.
Campaign for Liberty state coordinator Talbert Black, once an ardent supporter, is now one of her most vocal critics. While she talked about fighting the good ol’ boy system at every campaign event, he said, Haley’s now part of it.
He and other critics say the Republican governor has not abided by her own campaign mantra of transparency, and that she appointed political donors to boards and committees.
“I don’t think she fights for the principles the tea party stands for any more than she has to. She’s in for her own promotion,” said Black, who lives in her former House district in Lexington. “This isn’t personal to Haley, but for holding people accountable for what they say. I’m sick and tired of people saying what people want to hear to get into office.”