Gov. Nikki Haley’s State of the State address Wednesday night included two things veteran lawmakers say they’ve never seen before: a governor calling out lawmakers who don’t support ethics reform by having those who do support it stand up; and becoming so overcome by emotion when talking about the Charleston shooting victims and survivors that she had to stop speaking for several seconds, and then being choked up as she continued.
She talked about the deaths of the church-goers in Charleston last June at the Emanuel AME church, including Sen. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church. The governor invited his widow and daughters to the speech and recognized them in the balcony. Then she spoke about the shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston. Scott was shot several times in the back as he ran away from then-officer Michael Slager, who’s been charged with murder.
“In the face of overwhelming video evidence that something had gone terribly wrong, South Carolina did not erupt in riots or violence,” she said. “Instead, we focused on justice and progress. Justice for Walter Scott and his family. Progress for our state. “
She had also invited Walter Scott’s family to the speech and recognized them in the balcony.
She asked lawmakers to back her efforts to combat criminal domestic violence by hiring more prosecutors to try the cases, saying South Carolina is one of only three states that have police officers act as prosecutors in domestic violence cases. That means officers are often going up against experienced defense attorneys.
She wants to improve education by letting voters decide whether to have future governors appoint the state superintendent of education, a position that’s now elected by the voters. She said having future governors appoint that position would ensure that the two officials are working together to improve schools.
Her education improvement plan also includes incentives to attract good teachers to rural schools and give them incentives to stay. “If a student agrees to teach in a challenged district for eight years, we will cover the full cost of their education at a state university. For recent graduates who agree to the same commitment, we will repay their student loans. For career educators who want to grow professionally and teach in these challenged districts, we will cover the cost of their graduate coursework. And we will support mentorship programs for all of the above,” she said.
The big surprise was when she went off script while talking about the legislature’s failure to pass ethics reform again last year, when she’s asked for it every year. “I’m going to ask for every senator that’s for income disclosure to please stand,” she said, as some lawmakers could be heard saying, “Whoa!” Income disclosure is one of the things she thinks is necessary in ethics reform.
Pickens Sen. Larry Martin, sponsor of the ethics bill, was one of the few who stood up. He said he was glad the governor called out those who haven’t supported it. “Good, bad, or indifferent they’re just not going to vote for it, and when they were called out on it tonight they didn’t stand up and commit themselves to it. So it is what it is,” he said.
She talked about the need for lawmakers to pass a roads plan that does not raise taxes but does cut the income tax and reform the DOT. Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who filibustered against a bill last year that included raising the gas tax, said, “She made the point it’s not the amount of money, it’s how it’s being spent. We’ve got a politically-driven expenditure process that needs to be reformed.”
She concluded by reading the names of the nine people who were killed in the Charleston shooting, but said she now refers to the “Emanuel 12” instead of the “Emanuel Nine”, since three people survived the shootings. She invited Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, two of the three survivors along with Mrs. Sanders’ 11-year-old granddaughter, to the speech.
When Gov. Haley had the women stand up in the balcony after introducing them, the governor couldn’t continue speaking and sobbed. She then choked out, “These two women, and the precious little one who was with them that night, are proof that we have angels living here on Earth. Please join me in expressing to Mrs. Sanders and Mrs. Sheppard the warmth, gratitude, and above all the love that the entire State of South Carolina feels toward them.”
After the speech, Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Gaffney, said, “Last year was one of the toughest years we’ve experienced in this state. It was an emotional time and it obviously tells on our governor.”
Sen. Karl Allen, D-Greenville, said, “What I’m hoping is that the reason it was highlighted was that the governor, as well as members of the General Assembly, want to and will build upon those tragedies to highlight the issues that we face now, primarily a spirit of working together.”