Most political scientists agree a few things are necessary for a democratic form of government to thrive, including honest elected officials, an informed and engaged citizenry, and a vigorous, aggressive and scrupulous media.
Lately, the latter has been coming to life in South Carolina, but it’s clear from a reading of that media that the former two are in short supply.
One need go no further for an example than Sunday’s story in The State newspaper that detailed an office policy under Gov. Nikki Haley in which “only emails between the governor and the public are being saved and archived permanently.”
Other emails that Haley sends or receives — including exchanges with her staff members — are deleted.
At least two of South Carolina best-known media law attorneys say the policy violates the state’s open-records law, meant to ensure the public has access to government records. Because emails are being deleted, they are not available for the public to review.
Haley was elected governor in 2010 in part on a platform of conducting an open administration, its workings transparent to the public.
Haley told The State prior to the election that she would conduct any state business that she did via email on her state-provided email account, which is disclosable to the public.
However, Haley’s office stands by its email-deletion policy, saying all important correspondence is kept as is required by the state’s open-records law and its record-retention policies. Internal emails are not considered worthy of retention, the administration told The State.
They made the claim that at least one previous governor, Mark Sanford, had the same policy, adding it is the only logical way to deal with the hundreds of emails that pour into the office and otherwise would overwhelm the office’s limited email-storage space.
However, when my employer sent an SC Freedom of Information Act request to Sanford’s Office, along with the offices of several other key South Carolina officials in 2009, seeking email correspondence for a story we were writing, Sanford’s office turned over scores of emails between Sanford and staffers, disproving the claim Haley’s office made to The State.
Interestingly, staffers told The State that Haley rarely, if ever, uses email to conduct state business, making the retention of all emails pointless. Instead, Haley relies on the phone and face-to-face meetings, they say.
Yet, the Sunday before last, The State ran a curious story that showed that Haley averaged just one phone call a day on her state-issued cell phone. Haley, it was claimed, most often uses her office phone or staffers’ cell phones.
If all that was enough to give you some very real concerns about the state of democracy in South Carolina, consider the responses that inevitably appear any time Haley’s actions are scrutinized and portrayed in anything less than a flattering light.
Here’s a sampling from the most recent story in The State:
- From “Statereader202”: “I find it amusing that The State wants all of this ‘transparency’ when a conservative governor is elected.”
- From “Lin”: “Some historical perspective would be useful, here. Do we have documentation of every moment of the political machinations of Campbell, Beasley, Hodges et al.? (Or will people concerned with ‘history’ have to do some actual reporting, rather than simply having details handed to them on a silver platter?) For that matter, wouldn’t it be interesting – even historically significant – to see all the emails between reporters & editors of various media and learn how they plan their political coverage? I’m not crazy about Haley, but it is wearying, week after week, to read nothing but allegations that everything she’s ever done is suspicious and evil.”
- From “William3”: “The cycle continues … Gov. Haley is announcing good-paying new jobs for South Carolina on a daily basis, and Gina Smith and the (sic) State newspaper follow up with extreme left-wing attacks over trivial matters. Gov. Haley is proving to be the best governor we’ve had in terms of economic development since Carroll Campbell. Smith, The State and other liberal, pro-Obama, anti-jobs publications can’t live with the fact that Haley is doing such a great job and bringing billions in investments to S.C.”
- From “Runp”: “waaaaaa…… The libs are saying the same thing over an (sic) over. Impeach!!!! or recall. They do not know any other words!! LOL And, if she is breaking the law, then why isn’t she arrested? Maybe, we can recall her. And replace her with the Dems and liberals’ favorite Alvin Greene. I am sure he will save all his e-mails.”
- From “MDZ”: “Just another in a long series of hit pieces on Haley by The State. Very predictable.”
- From “11BGrunt”: “Here’s a simple translation of this attempt at news: After 12 months of pouting over Vince Sheheet’s (sic) failed run for governor, the voting minority of South Carolina (a.k.a. Richard “Don’t call me Dick” Harpootlianites) continue to waste their time, money, and efforts.”
- From “RougeElephant”: “YEAH,YEAH,YEAH, (sic) another day another anti Haley article. The loosers (sic) never give up.”
- From “Mitch Owen”: “In NC, We save everything… it is a (sic) unbelievable waste of tax payers (sic) money. Thousands and thousands of bytes of data.. every boring email.. It is stupid.. Anyone who would want to hide something could easily just do it by phone or face to face… so we spend thousands just so we can say we are transparent… People need to realize they make government expensive because the (sic) insist in trying to catch crooks by making good state workers worker twice as hard to do their jobs…”
- From “Zekemire”: “No! For reasons like the wiki anarcjist (sic), the confidential notes and e-mails need to be destroyed!! There are some things that government does that the public has no need to know!!!”
While it would be nice to believe that all the above came from Haley staffers, it would seem unlikely (particularly Zekemire; that one has a ring of nuttiness that is all too real.)
Sadly, there are far too many people on both sides of the political aisle who really don’t care what their side does, as long as it’s their side that’s doing it.
Plenty of Republicans had no problem with Nixon’s machinations and more than a few Democrats thought Clinton’s antics weren’t worth getting worked up about.
But if it had been a guy from the other party pulling those stunts, those same folks would have been ready to storm the castle with torches and pitchforks.
Haley’s track record less than a year into her first year in office has been abysmal, particularly given that she promoted herself as a proponent of transparency and accountability. She has been anything but.
The State and other media outlets who uncover her administration’s shortcomings deserve commendation, not scorn from partisan hacks who’d likely sell their mothers up the river if it helped them ingratiate themselves with the candidate of their choice.
Hardcore Haley supporters can shoot each and every messenger that comes bearing bad news, but that don’t change the fact that the governor would appear to have some very serious ethical concerns – none of which appear to be going away any time soon.