By Kathleen Parker
South Carolina politics never fails to amuse – and bemuse. A recent ethics imbroglio between Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and GOP activist John Rainey is a case in point.
The squabble would be of passing provincial interest if Haley weren’t a rising star often mentioned on lists of potential vice presidential candidates.
And had she not called Rainey, a nationally recognized philanthropist and community bridge-builder, a “racist, sexist bigot.”
Haley made the remarks during a state House Ethics Committee hearing that was prompted by a complaint Rainey filed alleging that Haley had lobbied illegally while she was a legislator. Haley has been cleared of any wrongdoing.
Meanwhile, her invectives toward Rainey, though perhaps understandable given an exchange between them, are contradicted by his record. Rainey is anything but racist, sexist or bigoted.
Haley’s feelings apparently had been hurt during her one meeting with Rainey while she was a gubernatorial candidate. He knew nothing about her at the time, he told me, and couldn’t find anyone who did. Everyone he spoke to said the same thing in so many words: “I don’t know anything about her, but I know she’s the party’s candidate and I support her.”
“That,” Rainey told me, “is the kind of thing that makes me want to throw up.” Party loyalty over all other considerations is what ails American politics, he said.
In questioning Haley at the meeting, Rainey indicated that all cards needed to be on the table, that he didn’t want to find out at some point that her family had ties to terrorists. Haley, who is of Sikh Indian descent, clearly took offense.
Nevertheless, she wrote a nice note to him, Rainey said, remarking that she never showed any indication of offense during their meeting until he raised questions about her lobbying activities. He began probing her past and raised questions about what he viewed as ethical transgressions. Rainey doesn’t recall making the specific “terrorist” remark, but takes the word of others present that he did.
Inarguably, the governor’s charges, made publicly and aimed at a citizen, albeit a powerful one, are far more damaging than whatever Rainey said during a private meeting.
For no personal gain, Rainey frequently has raised money and organized groups in common cause across party lines. He and wife, Anne, marched in 2000 with 46,000 others to protest the Confederate flag. In 1999, Rainey chaired the fundraising committee for the African-American History Monument on Statehouse grounds.
Latest to the roster is a sculpture Rainey has commissioned honoring two Camden natives, financier Bernard Baruch and baseball great Larry Doby. Baruch was a philanthropist, statesman and consultant to presidents. Doby was the first African-American in the American League and was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998.
The sculpture, which will be unveiled next April, is a monument not only to two local heroes, but also to the sort of reconciliation Rainey represents. His record speaks louder than words.
Kathleen Parker’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.