Haley's leadership can move state ahead

South Carolina's best chance to shake up state government and shake off our perennial bottom-of the-list performances on such key issues as education and unemployment lies with Nikki Haley as our governor.

The days, months and immediate years ahead will be critical to getting this state on track for more and better economic development, sound financial management and equitable and adequate education funding.

These times are not for the faint of heart. South Carolina's unemployment rate remains in the double digits. We face an ever-increasing budget shortfall. Our education outcomes continue to lag the rest of the country.

Haley has shown she is sharp, focused and capable of taking on the entrenched interests in our state.

Her toughest task as governor will be to work with legislative leaders, even as she challenges them to do business in a new way. Most importantly, she must get them to give her and future governors the ability to truly operate as chief executive of South Carolina. The reward for the people of South Carolina would be the accountability in state government we haven't had.

In turn, Haley vows to hold lawmakers accountable. In our legislative-centric state that isn't easy to do, and Gov. Mark Sanford learned the hard way that trying to embarrass lawmakers into doing the right thing doesn't work. But Sanford also rightly pointed out that the real power lies with the people in South Carolina if only we will exercise it.

Haley recognizes that. (She used it to good effect to get more recorded votes in the legislature.) And she has learned from Sanford's mistakes.

"It wasn't what he did, but how he did it," she told our editorial board. "They would pass a bill, he would react. They would pass a budget, he would react. In order to lead with the legislature, you have to be predictable. You have to let them know what you're going to do, and you have to let them know the consequences of their actions."

She also promises to take the heat for them so that politics won't get in the way of real change.

When it comes to the state's finances, Haley puts a positive spin on a dire situation, and it's a healthy, commonsense approach.

"Everybody has focused far too long on what we spend," she said. "What I want to do is look at how we spend it. It's unfortunate that our economy is the way it is. We're going through two to three really tough budget years. But there's an opportunity in that. When you go through tough times, you make the best decisions.

"We will now have to look at what the role of government is," Haley said. "What should we be paying for, what should we not be paying for? Look at every single agency, and ask, 'What do we have to have?' "

She said the same goes for our tax system overall and education funding in particular.

"This is great chance to come up with a South Carolina business plan so that we're not dealing in crisis mode any more, saying let's just get through another year. We're actually coming up with a 10-year plan for the tax code, for economic development, for health care, for small businesses, for education reform, for everything.

"Let's not think about this year, but about ... where we want to be 10 years from now and stay on message," Haley said.

South Carolina needs focused leadership coupled with hard work and diligent negotiating.

If Haley delivers that, South Carolina will be stronger and better four years from now.

(Editor's note: A correction has been made to fix a typographical error.)