COLUMBIA — State employees shouldn’t have to answer the phone with Gov. Nikki Haley’s required cheery greeting, “It’s a great day in South Carolina,” until it truly is, according to two state lawmakers.
Democratic Reps. John Richard King and Wendell Gilliard have filed legislation saying no state agency can force its employees to answer the phone with the first-year Republican governor’s mandated greeting as long as unemployment in the Palmetto State is 5 percent or higher.
“When you answer the phone and say, ‘It’s a great day in South Carolina,’ to be honest with you, it’s a lie,” Gilliard said. “South Carolina is being misrepresented by its No. 1 leader, and that’s the governor.”
The bill also would prohibit requiring the greeting as long as all South Carolinians don’t have health insurance and unless benchmarks on education funding and rural infrastructure are met.
South Carolina’s jobless rate dropped to 9.9 percent in November after six months of double-digit unemployment.
According to the health care advocacy group Families USA, more than one out of three South Carolinians under age 65 went without health insurance for all or part of the two-year period 2007-2008.
During a September meeting, Haley ordered her Cabinet agencies to embrace the greeting, saying it could help change the mood of state government. She has stuck by the idea, even as critics have pointed out that South Carolina’s high unemployment rate and poor showings on a number of quality-of-life measures would seem to indicate that days are not so great for many residents.
At the time, state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian called the command “juvenile gimmickry.” Haley, a tea party favorite elected in 2010, brushed off the complaints. And many state agencies were still answering the phone with her greeting well into December.
A Haley spokesman said Wednesday the governor stands by the salutation.
“The governor is changing the culture of our state. She is proud of South Carolina, and while we have challenges, we are making great progress every day,” Rob Godfrey said. “The focus of this greeting is to have state employees pass along a positive attitude and ask callers, ‘How can I help you?’ so that they remember – and the people know – that they work for the taxpayers.”
State lawmakers return to Columbia next month. King and Gilliard’s bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee.