Standing on the steps of the state Capitol on Monday afternoon, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley called for the removal of the Confederate flag, saying “it is time to move the flag from the Capitol grounds.”
The announcement, which was met by applause and cheers from the crowd outside the Capitol, came after 21-year-old Dylann Roof opened fire inside the historically black Emanuel AME last week, killing nine, including South Carolina state senator Clementa Pinckney. Roof’s actions were deemed a hate crime by authorities and have sparked the movement to remove the Confederate flag from the state, particularly after images surfaced showing him holding the flag.
Haley has been vocal in her condemnation of Roof and her decision to prompt the removal of the Confederate flag is a direct reaction to last week’s massacre.
Here’s what you need to know about Haley, her time as governor and her history-making move:
1. Haley Said She Would Use Her Authority as Governor to Call the Legislature Back Into Session & Remove the Flag
Although Haley was clear in her desire to remove the Confederate flag from flying in front of the South Carolina Capitol, the process is not quite as simple.
According to a report by The Post and Courier, House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Rutherford, said a bill that would remove the flag must be proposed and that two-thirds of both the South Carolina House and Senate would have to agree to bring it up for discussion. Rutherford added that there is a faster way, that the House can pull a bill once it’s filled directly to the floor but that would require every lawmaker in the chamber to agree, which is unlikely.
That leaves Haley with her back to the metaphorical law-making wall. The General Assembly’s session ended on June 4 but lawmakers are meeting on Tuesday to pass a budget compromise and can, possibly, extend the session to discuss the flag. Haley said she would use her own authority to call them back into session if debate does not begin.
2. She Backed Away from the Issue During Her 2014 Reelection Campaign
Haley was nothing if not direct when discussing the removal of the flag on Monday afternoon. She acknowledged that the Confederate flag is a part of the state’s history and also a symbol of “a brutally oppressive past.”
However, Haley’s stance was not always quite so precise. In fact, when asked about the placement of the Confederate flag in front of the South Carolina Statehouse during her reelection campaign in 2014, Haley was nothing if not evasive.
In a debate with then-challenger Vincent Sheehen, Haley said:
What I can tell you is over the last three and a half years, I spent a lot of my days on the phones with CEOs and recruiting jobs to this state. I can honestly say I have not had one conversation with a single CEO about the Confederate flag.
The flag, which previously flew above the Capitol, was moved to a spot in front of the building in 2000 as part of a compromise between South Carolina politicians and lawmakers. Only 15 of the Senate’s 46 members served in 2000, while only 19 of the 124 members of the House of Representatives were acting at the time.
3. Haley is the First Female Governor of South Carolina & Was Raised in the Sikh Religion
After being elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2004, Haley set her sights on a bigger platform and opted to run for governor in 2010. She was endorsed by then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney as well as Jenny Sanford, the former first lady of South Carolina.
Haley became the first-ever female governor of South Carolina on November 2, 2010, defeating Democratic candidate Vincent Sheheen 51 percent to 47 percent. She also became the state’s first Indian-American governor and just the second governor of Indian descent after Bobby Jindal of Louisiana.
The 43-year-old politician grew up in Bamberg, South Carolina to Sikh immigrant parents from Punjab, India. She visits a Sikh temple to honor her family but, since her marriage, regularly attends a Methodist church and has publicly stated she converted to Christianity. She told Christianity Today:
We’ve always been somewhat private about our faith because I’m not one that likes to see politics in church. We sit in the back row in church because we want to hear and feel the message without distraction. I don’t want to go to a label because I don’t know what that means. I know that we both feel like we have personal relationships with God that we want to continue to strengthen for ourselves and for our family.
4. She Sparked Controversy for Calling a Reporter ‘Little Girl’ in 2011
After a June 2011 trip to Europe to meet with companies that might be interested in building and investing in South Carolina, Haley was criticized for using $127,000 of taxpayer money on unnecessary luxuries that included five-star hotels. Haley’s spending habits were divulged in an article in the Post and Courier, a Charleston-based newspaper, and was written by 25-year-old reporter Renee Dudley.
Haley did not take well to the critiques and when asked about the article on ‘The Laura Ingraham Show’ shortly after the story was published said:
And all I will tell you is, God bless that little girl at The Post and Courier. I mean her job is to try and create conflict. My job is to create jobs. In the end I’m going to have jobs to show for it.
Haley did, ultimately, apologize, albeit in a slightly round-about manner. The South Carolina governor released a statement saying, “The story painted a grossly inaccurate picture and was unprofessionally done, but my ‘little girl’ comment was inappropriate and I regret that. Everyone can have a bad day. I’ll forgive her bad story if she’ll forgive my poor choice of words.”
5. Haley is Married to Michael Haley & the Pair Have Two Children
Haley’s husband, Michael, is a combat veteran who spent 11 months serving in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan in 2013. He previously served with the South Carolina Army National Guard and was the commander of an area support medical company. Michael also left for three weeks of military training earlier this month and first joined the National Guard as an officer in 2006.
The Haley’s also have two children, daughter Rena, 17, and son Nalin, 13. According to their bios on the South Carolina governor’s website, Rena is a high school cheerleader, while Nalin is a basketball player.