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Gov. Haley suffers her 1st setback

Gov. Nikki Haley delivered a personal appeal last week to a Senate committee on her signature political issue - on-the-record voting. The new governor then sat and watched for more than an hour as lawmakers approved a version of the bill she specifically opposed.

The next morning, Haley chided lawmakers for siding with hospital and doctor "special interests" and failing, thus far, to grant one of her Cabinet agencies permission to cut what they are paid for treating the poor.

Are those signs the honeymoon might be over between a Republican governor looking to rebuild bridges, razed by her predecessor-mentor, with the GOP-controlled legislature?

Not yet, lawmakers said.

But some say they are concerned about Haley's tone and focus. And they don't like some of the political company that she keeps.

"There's three things I've learned as a lawmaker," said Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee. "Be present, be prepared and be patient. I have trouble with the third one."

Haley has admitted she can be impatient.

At times, Peeler said he too is frustrated by the pace of the Senate, where process and senatorial peccadilloes can grind action to a halt. But, he added, "I'd urge her to be patient."

Take cutting state pay to hospitals and doctors, for instance, a move needed so the state's health care agency can begin tackling its $225 million budget deficit, Haley said.

Peeler has authored a bill that would grant the Department of Health and Human Services the power to cut its spending, as Haley wants. But the bill is opposed by Democrats and could face a long wait on the Senate calendar.

Just be patient, governor, counsels Peeler.

'A pretty good month'

Casting a shadow over Haley's every decision and public statement is former Gov. Mark Sanford, who cultivated a slash-and-burn relationship with lawmakers - particularly his fellow Republicans - during his two terms.

Haley has worked hard to patch the rift, according to the schedules released by her office. Those schedules include numerous legislative meetings to discuss agendas, the state's budget woes and proposed bills. The goal, presumably, is to hash out deals that meet both the new governor's goals and those of legislators.

And her press spokesman says Haley's relationship with the legislature is just hunky-dory.

"The honeymoon isn't over - the sun is still shining brightly, the music's still playing and the wins keep coming," said Rob Godfrey. "Just look at the governor's record over the last month: we've resolved two agency deficits, made three significant economic development announcements that mean jobs for our state, watched a roll-call voting bill pass the House unanimously, had 11 cabinet heads confirmed, brought fresh eyes to the Budget and Control Board and had a veto of an unconstitutional local bill sustained by the entirety of the House.

"That's a pretty good month."

But while Haley's spokesman, at least, still is feeling the love, there are signs some legislators have questions about some of the new governor's political friends. And those friends have no use for some legislators.

Take the Senate committee's vote on the roll-call proposal.

Spurred by grass-roots supporters who want her to grant no quarter to lawmakers and the conservative-libertarian S.C. Policy Council, Haley took the unusual step of speaking to the Senate Judiciary Committee as it debated the roll-call voting bill.

A Senate subcommittee had amended the bill so that voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment before lawmakers approved a law requiring future General Assembly sessions to take a recorded vote on every bill approved by each chamber.

Haley argued against a constitutional amendment, saying it would mean a two-year wait before the law could take effect.

Senators were denying the will of the voters, said Haley, who was elected by a 51-49 margin. She asked the committee to pass the House version of the roll-call bill with no changes.

'Respect and dignity'

But a handful of Republicans joined Democrats on the committee to argue that Senate rules, unlikely to change before the next election, already required an on-the-record vote. A constitutional amendment, they added, was needed to bind future legislatures.

So, after Haley sat in the front row and watched for more than an hour, the committee voted to defy her wishes.

"We treated her with respect and dignity," said state Sen. John Scott, D-Richland, adding what happened was just the normal legislative ebb and flow. "In 20 years [in the legislature], I haven't seen a piece of legislation ... come out the same way it came in."