Nikki Haley (R-SC), the newly elected Indian American female Governor suddenly became a headlining political victim of the diversity GOP surrogates heralded her only months ago for representing. Behind Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) as the second highest ranking state elected official of Indian descent, Haley now currently meets the distinction of being second behind Ohio’s Gov. John Kucinich (R) as yet another newly elected Republican Governor embroiled in controversy over cabinet picks.
The new cabinet appointment numbers hit Haley as hard as the reality of South Carolina’s demographics: thirteen out of Haley’s fourteen agency heads are her own hand-picked White appointees. With the exception of five appointments, all are White men. The lone African American selected by Haley is Lynn Rogers – who, it just so happens, gets to run the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.
There is one other African American in Haley’s cabinet, State Police Chief Reggie Lloyd. But, Haley can’t claim that since he’s a pick from her predecessor Gov. Mark Sanford (last seen vacationing in Argentine paradise with poetry-inspiring mistress-turned-official-girlfriend). Lloyd’s term expires in 2012 with some speculation that Haley will more than likely pick a White male at that time for racial posterity.
Needless to say, Haley’s appointments may look strange, at best, to the state’s large Black community and to women, who comprise over 30% and 51% of the state’s population, respectively. During an interview with the South Carolina Herald, Rep. Leon Howard (D), a member of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, weighed in on the stereotypical cinematography of a Black woman heading up an agency that represents the formal gateway to the state’s high Black incarceration rates: “It’s ridiculous. The only African-American appointed is for [the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services], and she [Haley] wants to merge that agency with another.”
Offering to placate the state’s Legislative Black Caucus, one of the largest of its kind, Haley recently met with Howard and his colleagues for a second time to discuss the diversity issue, perhaps to no avail. The impasse continues since Haley’s cabinet is pretty much filled, with a continuation of battles to emerge in 2012 when Lloyd’s time is up. While the Governor invited the Caucus to submit resumes of qualified candidate, they have yet to take her up on the offer. Perhaps, given her ‘Johnny come-lately gesture,’ the Caucus feels somewhat spurned by the suggestion that their recommendations will be relegated to second-tier appointments, boards and commissions.
Clearly, there are unavoidable racial and cultural consequences Haley may either not be aware of or is ignoring out of pure spite for the electoral realities. But, we can be certain that an ugly and rather petty political calculus factors into it.
For one, discussions between Haley and the state’s Black Caucus are just that – discussions. Negotiations will predictably break down along party lines since the Caucus is predominantly Democrat and Haley can’t help but show her Republican color, with each side having little inclination towards anything other than the usual partisan recriminations. And unbeknownst to Haley until now, the Governor has set herself up, providing a gaping racial opening for the Caucus to attempt game play on harder topics: like South Carolina’s budget. The failure to make any substantive Black cabinet picks beyond the tomfoolery of antique resentments is also Haley’s weakness.
Still, here we have another example of a high-ranking Republican elected official ignoring Black interests in a state with a high proportion of Black residents and a considerable Black political force. Haley has made the mistake of giving in to the state’s hard line Southern attitude, ignoring the population trends in an effort to appease conservative White friends set in their Confederate ways. They still run things, and having a woman of color in the state house is merely optical illusion to give the impression that the GOP is adjusting to the times.
There is also the argument, though, that this episode also reflects greatly on the state’s influential Black Caucus, which is locked in endless affiliation to Democratic Party interests, absent a critical examination of future political strategy. Politically, Haley – while wrong – is being practical: it’s not like she garnered any overwhelming Black support during her 2010 bid. It’s not like any members of the Black Caucus stumped for her or openly supported her during the elections. In her mind, she owes them nothing. Morally, it’s contemptible. But, politically, it is what it is. And it’s a difficult argument to overcome while Black elected officials find it increasingly difficult to execute strategies that are, at best, outmoded. Black politicos must find some way of ensuring Black political empowerment without locking it into one party as opposed to the other.