Legislator, governor, ambassador. Haley was born in Bamberg, on January 20, 1972, daughter of Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kour Randhawa. Her parents were Sikh immigrants from India. She was educated at Orangeburg Preparatory Schools and was a graduate of Clemson. In 1994 she joined her family’s clothing business. On September 6, 1996, she married Michael Haley. They have two children. Reared a Sikh, she became a Christian in 1997.
In 2004 Haley challenged and defeated an incumbent Republican House member in District 87 (Lexington County). In the House she became known for her outspoken criticism of the House leadership and of the way the General Assembly operated. With her strong libertarian views on government, she became a protégée of Governor Mark Sanford and his wife, Jenny. In 2010 she entered the Republican gubernatorial primary as an outsider. With external support from national party figures Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin and internal support from many backers of the Tea Party movement, Haley surprised pundits and came within a whisker of winning the nomination on the first ballot. In the run-off she swamped her opponent. The ensuing campaign revealed severe cracks in the Republican Party. Haley defeated Democrat Vincent Sheheen. In an overwhelmingly Republican state, she won 51 percent of the vote to become the first woman and the first person of color elected governor in South Carolina.
As governor, Haley—unlike her predecessor Mark Sanford—promised to work with the General Assembly. However, that did not materialize. During the course of the 2011 legislative session, she and the legislature clashed over a variety of issues ranging from the budget to government reform. The legislature overrode twenty-five of the thirty-four budget items she vetoed. Then, in a constitutional showdown with the General Assembly, she called the Assembly back into session to try to act on her plan to reform the Budget and Control Board. The S.C. Senate filed a lawsuit to block her actions, and in a split decision (3-2) the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against the governor.
In 2012, however, the General Assembly did pass legislation reorganizing the Budget and Control Board as Haley had desired. Nonetheless, the antagonism and tension that had existed between the executive and legislative branches in 2011 continued onto other matters. 2015 was a pivotal year in Haley’s governorship, as she oversaw South Carolina’s response to the Emanuel AME Church shooting, the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the State House Grounds, and the record statewide flooding of that October.
In national Republican politics, Haley supported Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney for the GOP nomination in the 2012 presidential race and Florida senator Marco Rubio in the 2016 contest. In late 2016, then President-Elect Donald Trump nominated Haley for the position of United States Ambassador to the United Nations. The United States Senate confirmed Haley’s nomination by a vote of 96-4 on January 24, 2017. She resigned her position as governor shortly after receiving news of her confirmation.
James T. Hammond, “Haley’s Vetoes Mostly Reversed by Lawmakers,” GSA Business, June 30, 2011. Kim Severson, “S. Carolina Supreme Court Rules against Governor,” New York Times, June 2, 2011. Gina Smith, “S.C.’s New Governor—The Inauguration of Nikki Haley,” The State, January 13, 2011.