Southern Narratives

An Interview With SC Governor, Nikki Haley

An interview with Nikki Haley, 116th and current Governor of South Carolina.

South CarolinaHow have your Southern roots shaped your life? What was it like growing up in a small town?
Growing up in Bamberg taught me the greatness of the American dream. Bamberg was a small, southern town that accepted an Indian family despite our differences. For my family, it was—as it remains to this day—a town of faith, values and patriotism. We never knew what we didn’t have in Bamberg, thanks to the strength and grace of my parents who always said, “whatever you do make sure you’re great at it and people remember you for it.” They loved the fact that only in America, we could be as successful as we wanted to be and nothing would stand in our way.

What did you lean from a small community that aids you as a leader?
We were the first Indian family in Bamberg, a town that at the time only knew black and white. We didn’t fit either category. But our parents reminded us every single day how blessed we were to live in this country. They showed us the value in bringing people together. Our differences, they taught my brothers, my sister and me, are nowhere near as powerful as what unites us—and those lessons guide me every day as governor.

How would you describe South Carolina to someone who has never visited?
We are a fiercely proud state, a state with rich history and abundant natural resources, a state where the intensity of our individualism is surpassed only by the shared joy we draw from being, collectively, South Carolinians. There’s no place like it.

What’s your favorite southern food?

Tea: sweet or unsweet?

Is there a motto that you live by?
When we took office in January, 2011, I put a plaque on the door to my office that says, “Can’t Is Not An Option,” because I wanted everyone who entered—legislators, staff, constituents—to know we’re not going to stop fighting until everyone in our state can achieve their hopes and dreams.

Who are you a fan of?
Governor Carroll Campbell, whose portrait hangs above our fireplace, believed that if you give a person a job, you take care of a family. That is something I always keep in mind, and it’s why we are proud to be able to say that, in announcing more than 63,000 jobs in 45 of our 46 counties, we have been able to take care of a lot of families.
Margaret Thatcher, who broke countless class and gender barriers, has always inspired me. One of my favorite quotes is one from Lady Thatcher: “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.”

What is your favorite style of music?
80’s music

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
My little ones—daughter Rena, our cheerleader, and son Nalin, our basketball star—make me proud of my most important role: mom. Michael and I treasure the fact that, even as public service keeps us on the move, we have been able to continue our favorite pastime, “Haley Family Fun Night.” Whether it’s ordering a pizza, playing video games, watching a movie or taking in a basketball game, “Haley Family Fun Night” is the best way to spend the weekend after a week of work.

Is there anyone that you have met that made you a little starstruck?
For me, it doesn’t get any cooler than Joan Jett- one of the first female rockers when female rockers weren’t accepted. Joan embodies strength, talent, passion and courage, her music always helps me through tough times, and  Michael and I couldn’t have been more excited or thankful to be able to meet Joan last year.

How would you like to be remembered?
Four years ago, we had a perception problem inside and outside of our state, our economy was sluggish, and elected officials had forgotten who it was they worked for. However, we knew, as my parents taught me, that in our challenges lie tremendous opportunity. And we set out to seize that opportunity, change the image of our state, kick start our economic development engine and make state government accountable to the people it serves. Working hand in hand with Team South Carolina, we have been able to do many those things. The celebrations of the last four years – announcing tens of thousands of jobs, seeing more of our people working than ever before, delivering historic education reform—have truly made it a great day in South Carolina, but we’re just getting started.