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Nikki Haley Feuds With S.C. Legislature

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley is a rising figure on the national scene. Republican presidential candidates are courting her for endorsements. But she's not getting such positive attention these days from her own state legislature. She and the Republican-led Senate are engaged in a power struggle, after she ordered lawmakers back into session to vote on bills that would give her more power.

From Columbia, South Carolina, Sea Stachura reports.

SEA STACHURA: All is quiet at the South Carolina Statehouse this week with just a few committee meetings. But Governor Haley's move to push the legislature back into session hangs in the humid air.

Just a few blocks from the capitol's dome, Stephanie Redmond runs a register at the Carolina Cafe. She's heard about Governor Haley's order.

Ms. STEPHANIE REDMOND (Carolina Cafe): I mean, I think it makes sense with her being the first woman, you know, kind of feeling like she has to step up her game, I guess. But I don't think it necessarily gives her a good rep, so I don't know how much good it's actually doing her.

STACHURA: The Senate's lawsuit against Haley may be evidence of that. Haley wanted the lawmakers to vote on a series of bills that would grant her more power. The Senate wrapped up its session without voting on any of them. So, Haley ordered legislators back to work immediately.

Senate President Pro-Tem Glenn McConnell said that violated the separation of powers and filed a lawsuit with State Supreme Court. The court agreed.

State Senator TEM GLENN MCCONNELL (Republican, President Pro-Temperature): With this conduct, members are questioning how much more authority they should give a governor.

STACHURA: McConnell has been at the capitol for 31 years and he sees a new breed of Republican politician like Haley, a Tea Party favorite. McConnell says he's noticed that some politicians aren't very good about following the rules.

St. Sen. MCCONNELL: I've watched this trend where people take the position: Well, I want to get it done, the people want it, and so we're going to do it. Well, elected officials all need to understand that we operate under limitations that are placed on us by the Constitution.

STACHURA: He says that's why he filed the lawsuit. But he says Governor Haley has acted in unusual ways. For example, at the governor's annual end-of-session barbecue, Haley turned away some legislators. She said the event was for supporters only.

Haley wasn't made available for comment for this story, but she did talk to WLXT-TV in Columbia.

Governor NIKKI HALEY (Republican, South Carolina): You know, you first have to say it's somewhat silly that you have a Republican senator sue a Republican governor, when all I'm trying to do is just get the work done. You know, we don't have to go into the constitutional crisis when all they have to do is go in and vote.

STACHURA: The Senate could vote to add her bills to next week's special session, when they also will deal with vetoed legislation and redistricting. Haley has asked that they do so.

But University of South Carolina political science Professor Robert Oldendick says members may have too sour a taste in their mouths to add it. And a few members have said that they won't.

Mr. ROBERT OLDENDICK (University of South Carolina, Political Science Professor): You know, not inviting everybody to the end-of-session barbecue, and this kind of - what looks like an overstepping of power, of really kind of trying to force things, may in the short term cause some people in the general assembly not to vote for this.

STACHURA: Oldendick says most members agree with Haley's legislation, and he expects that if they don't take up the bills next week they'll do so next January. But he says Haley is impatient and if she doesn't learn from this reaction, she may end up facing more revolt than cooperation, not unlike her predecessor Mark Sanford.

For NPR News, I'm Sea Stachura. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sea Stachura