COLUMBIA — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday she wrote her book “Can’t Is Not An Option” as a way to encourage more people, especially women, to seek office.
And she says there’s nothing personal in her recounting of various opponents.
Haley said she was devastated when people told her after her historic 2010 win that they would never run for office after seeing the personal attacks she faced, and she wanted to write an inspirational memoir.
The state’s first female and first minority governor described her book as about overcoming challenges, as well as about the progress of a Southern state that elected a 38-year-old Indian-American as its CEO.
“This story is about a lot of challenges, but it’s about so many more successes,” she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “The image of the state is changing, and I’m proud of that.”
Haley, now 40, was in New York to promote the book’s release, including an appearance on “The Colbert Report” with Charleston native Stephen Colbert. The Republican governor heads next to Washington, D.C., before her in-state book tour begins Monday in Charleston. But she said the book is not about promoting her national profile or any role in a future Republican administration. Haley endorsed and campaigned for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“If offered any position by Gov. Romney, I would say no,” she said. “The people of South Carolina gave me a chance. I have a job to do and I’m not going to leave my job for anything.”
Haley said writing the book was therapeutic, as the look backward showed how experiences had shaped her.
“Things never leave you. They’re always there,” she said. “They shape you to be who you are, and I’m grateful for them.”
The book includes her reaction to the downfall of her political mentor, former Gov. Mark Sanford, whom she had assumed would promote her candidacy, until his highly publicized return from Argentina, when he acknowledged having an affair with an Argentinian woman.
Haley also writes about the effect of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s endorsement on her four-way GOP gubernatorial primary.
The theme carried throughout is her rising above racial, gender and ethnic stereotypes — starting with her childhood in Bamberg — and overcoming the good ol’ boy system.
Haley’s disdain for such politics includes the appointment of financial backers, though she’s been criticized for doing so since taking office.
“Another potential donor wanted me to appoint his wife to a board in exchange for his support,” she wrote. “I wasn’t interested in playing old-school, quid pro quo games. That was exactly what I was running against.”
Several chapters later, she writes, she was grateful she’d been the underdog candidate.
“I came into the governor’s office not owing anyone,” she wrote.
Haley goes on to discuss her Cabinet picks, including directors from Hawaii and Louisiana and several retired Army officers.
But controversies in her administration have involved donors appointed elsewhere, including on the Department of Health and Environmental Control board, which has drawn fire over a permit allowing the expansion of the Savannah, Ga., port, and her appointed chairwoman to the Department of Natural Resources, who recently announced plans to step down.
Haley drew a backlash early on when she ousted popular University of South Carolina benefactor Darla Moore from its board of trustees and replaced her with a male campaign donor, saying it was time for a change.
And Haley won a victory her second day in office, when the five-member Budget and Control Board approved her choice to lead the agency that oversees the state’s bureaucracy: close friend Eleanor Kitzman, whom she credits in the book with getting her involved in politics.
But she said Tuesday that she did not appoint people because they’re donors: “You get people who think like you, who are loyal, who you know will always have that pro-business mindset. If they happen to be donors, yes, but you’re going for their thought process.”
Throughout the book, Haley discounts those who don’t support her as anti-reform and backward-thinking.
In one previously untold account, she describes meeting with GOP donor John Rainey and “sitting there in speechless horror” as he said he could support her only under certain conditions, including seeing tax returns and phone records. When she asked why, she wrote, he explained it would be embarrassing to later find out she’s related to terrorists.
“He reminds me so much of the hate my family faced when I was growing up in South Carolina,” she wrote. “His kind of backward thinking is what will continue to hold our state back if it goes unchallenged.”
Rainey and former GOP Chairwoman Karen Floyd, who was in the meeting, said there was a broader context to the 15-minute meeting.
Rainey, who convinced Sanford to run and was his Board of Economic Advisors chairman, said he wanted to make sure the next governor he backed didn’t wind up in another scandal.
His request for tax returns came shortly after she allowed reporters to view several years of her tax returns, which showed she earned more than $40,000 from an engineering firm with state contracts. And the phone records request followed allegations of affairs, which she addresses in the chapter “Blood Sport.”
Rainey and Floyd said he noted he knew nothing about her or her family and wanted to be extremely cautious. Rainey said it’s possible he made the reference “in an expansive jocular fashion.”
“Perception is reality,” Floyd said. She couldn’t remember his exact phrasing. “I can see how it could’ve been interpreted as mean-spirited, but it was offered in the context of vetting someone,” she said.
Rainey, who acknowledges he voted for Haley’s Democratic opponent but did not give to his campaign, has been a political thorn in Haley’s side ever since. Last month, a circuit court judge dismissed Rainey’s lawsuit accusing Haley of breaking ethics laws while she was a legislator, saying such issues should be handled by either state ethics officials or a legislative panel.
Rainey’s decades of political activism include fighting to remove the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse dome, backing a documentary on the plight of the state’s rural schools and using his bully pulpit as BEA chairman to push for tax reform.
“I think John is one of the most sensible Republicans I know,” said the Rev. Joe Darby, a civil rights leader and pastor in Charleston, whom Rainey convinced to give the invocation at Sanford’s first inaugural. “I think John is someone who puts principle above politics.”
But Haley said Tuesday she described the event exactly as it happened: “You can say that any way you want, but there is no way to say that’s not offensive. It’s everything that’s wrong in politics.”