Nikki Haley Biography

U.S. Governor, Diplomat(1972–)
Nikki Haley is the United States Ambassador to the United Nations appointed by President Donald Trump. She was governor of South Carolina from 2011 to 2017, and was the first female and Indian-American to serve in this office.

Synopsis

Nikki Haley was born on January 20, 1972 in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Sikh immigrants. The Republican entered politics at a young age, and served in the South Carolina House of Representatives for several years before becoming governor of the state. In addition to being the first female governor in South Carolina, she is the first Indian-American, and the second Indian-American governor in the country after Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana. In 2016, president-elect Donald Trump picked Haley to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations, and she was confirmed for the position in January 2017.

Early Life

Republican South Carolina Governor Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley, better known as Nikki Haley, was born on January 20, 1972 in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India. She attended local schools and graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science degree in accounting. Haley went on to work for her mother's upscale clothing business, Exotica International, helping to make it a multimillion-dollar company.

In 1998, Haley was named to the Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce's board of directors, and in 2003, to that of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce. She became president of the National Association of Women Business Owners in 2004 and immersed herself in a number of organizations, including the Lexington Medical Foundation, West Metro Republican Women, and the South Carolina Chapter of NAWBO.

Haley converted to Christianity and sits on the board of the Mt. Horeb United Methodist Church. Out of respect for her parents' culture, she still attends Sikh services.

Political Career

Haley ran for a seat in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2004, and faced a challenge in the primary from incumbent Republican Larry Koon, the longest-serving member of the House at that time. She won the primary and then the general election, in which she ran unopposed, and became the first Indian-American to hold office in South Carolina. She ran unopposed for re-election in 2006, and defeated her Democrat challenger in 2008.

As a Republican, Haley's platform was anti-tax and fiscally conservative. She voted for bills that restrict abortion and those that protect fetuses. As the child of legal immigrants, Haley has expressed support for greater enforcement of immigration laws.

Haley, who is also a member of the Tea Party movement, announced in May 2009 that she would run for governor in 2010. She was endorsed by former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Jenny Sanford, incumbent first lady of South Carolina. She won the election, and was elected governor on November 2, 2010.

Controversy and Racial Slur

Prior to Haley's election, she was accused of having affairs with two different men, Will Folks, former press secretary for then-South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, and Larry Marchant, a political consultant for Haley's opponent, Andre Bauer. Folks said he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Haley several years prior, and Marchant said he and Haley had a one-time sexual encounter. Haley denied the events, saying that she had been faithful to her husband, Michael Haley. In an interview with Columbia's WVOC radio on June 4, 2010, Haley said that if she were elected governor and the claims against her were validated, she would resign.

Around the same time those affair claims were made, South Carolina state Senator Jake Knotts, a supporter of Haley's opponent, Bauer, called her a "raghead." Knotts vehemently defended his comments at first, saying Haley was hiding her Sikh religion and posing as a Methodist. He later apologized and said the remark was "intended in jest."

In a June 2010 Newsweek article, Haley was quoted speaking about breaking racial and gender barriers: "The fact that I happen to be an Indian female, of course that brings a new dynamic," she said. "But what I hope it does is cause a conversation in this state where we no longer live by layers, but we live by philosophies."

Vice President Speculation

In 2012, rumors spread that Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama's challenger in the 2012 presidential election, would choose Haley as his vice-presidential running mate. But Haley said that she would decline any position he might offer her. "The people of South Carolina gave me a chance," she said in an Associated Press interview in April 2012. "I have a job to do and I'm not going to leave my job for anything."

Despite rumors regarding Haley's possible vice-presidential nomination, Romney announced U.S. Republican Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate for vice president in August 2012.

Church Shooting in Charleston

On June 17, 2015, South Carolina along with the entire country was rocked when Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, went on a racist-fueled shooting rampage at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Roof was welcomed into the church where he sat with parishioners and the pastor Clementa Pinckney during Bible study before he stood up and announced that he was there "to shoot black people," according to witnesses. Roof opened fire, killing six women and three men, including Reverend Pinckney, who was also a state senator. Roof later told police he wanted to ignite "a race war."

A day after the tragedy, Governor Haley said in an interview on NBC's Today show that the shootings should be labeled a hate crime and prosecutors should seek the death penalty in the case. She called Roof, who had posted a racist manifesto on a website and posed in photographs on his Facebook page wearing white supremacists emblems, "a person filled with hate."

Removal of the Confederate Flag

Roof was also seen in photographs posing with a Confederate battle flag, which ignited a debate about whether the flag — a symbol of hate and division for some while a source of Southern heritage and pride for others — should be flown at the State Capitol. On June 22, 2015, Haley took a stand calling for the flag's removal. "Today we are here in a moment of unity in our state without ill will to say it is time to remove the flag from our Capitol grounds," she said at a news conference surrounded by a group of bipartisan politicians. "This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.”

On July 7, the South Carolina Senate voted 36-3 to remove the flag from the Capitol grounds and two days later on July 9 the state's House of Representatives voted 94-20 to pass the Senate bill. That same day Governor Haley signed the bill into law in a ceremony in the lobby of the Statehouse, which was attended by state legislators, governors, and relatives of the shooting victims. "It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state." Haley said, adding: "Now this is about our children." 

Haley also said that nine commemorative pens from the ceremony would be given to the shooting victims' families. 

The bill called for the Confederate battle flag, which had flown at the State Capitol since the 1960s as a protest against the civil rights movement, to be taken down from statehouse grounds at 10 a.m. ET on July 10, 2015.

State of the Union Response

The Republican Party selected Haley to deliver the GOP response following President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address on January 12, 2016. While Haley recognized Obama's historic presidency as the first African-American to be elected, she criticized his record. "Barack Obama's election as president seven years ago broke historic barriers and inspired millions of Americans," she said. "As he did when he first ran for office, tonight President Obama spoke eloquently about grand things. He is at his best when he does that. Unfortunately, the President's record has often fallen far short of his soaring words."

She also spoke to members of her own party to reflect on their role in the nation's struggles. "We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves: while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around,” she said. “We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America's leadership. We need to accept that we've played a role in how and why our government is broken.”

Haley also recalled her experience as an Indian American growing up in the rural South, and called for tolerance and inclusiveness of all Americans."Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory,” she said. “During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.”

While the governor did not mention any Republican presidential candidates by name, her statement was perceived as a critique of some candidates' rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants. She added: “Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.” 

Following her response, press outlets reported that Haley was on the GOP short list as a possible vice presidential running mate for the party's nominee Donald Trump, however, he chose Indiana governor Mike Pence for the position. During the presidential race, Haley had not been a loyal supporter of Trump, initially campaigning for Marco Rubio and then endorsing Ted Cruz. Haley also criticized Trump for not immediately disavowing the Ku Klux Klan's support of him and for his proposed Muslim ban. Trump responded to Haley's criticism with his own critiques of her, including calling her "weak on immigration" and tweeting in March 2016: "The people of South Carolina are embarrassed by Nikki Haley!"

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations

By the end of the contentious campaign, Haley did vote for Trump in the election and celebrated his victory. "The idea that now we can start to really govern — I have never known what it's like to have a Republican president," she said at a gathering of Republican leaders after the election. "I can tell you that the last five years, Washington has been the hardest part of my job. This is a new day."

On November 22, 2016, president-elect Donald Trump picked Haley to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations. She was the first woman to be named as part of his administration. “Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country,” Trump said in a statement. “She will be a great leader representing us on the world stage.”

In accepting the offer, Haley said that she is “honored that the President-elect has asked me to join his team and serve the country we love.’’

"When the President believes you have a major contribution to make to the welfare of our nation, and to our nation's standing in the world, that is a calling that is important to heed," she said. 

On January 24, 2017, Haley was confirmed as U.N. Ambassador by the Senate, 94-6, and she resigned as governor of South Carolina to serve in her new role.

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