Nikki Haley VP 2012: South Carolina Governor is At War With the Arts, Unfit for Veep

I want to like Nikki Haley. She’s the American Dream if ever there were one.

Born to Indian immigrants, Haley is now the first female governor of South Carolina and perhaps more importantly, the first non-white person to hold the office. I think she deserves a beer, a pat on the back, and a plate of Chicken Fried Rice from China Kitchen -- home of the best Chinese-American food I’ve ever eaten, located in my (and Haley’s) hometown, Orangeburg, SC. 

On the Colbert Report this past April, Haley attributed her electoral triumph to the glowing citizens of our state, saying, “South Carolina is changing, it’s progressing.” There’s been talk of Romney offering Haley the VP nomination, and let’s face it, she’s a catch. An ethnic woman would probably help Romney gain support from demographics that aren’t quite convinced he’s on their side. But more than likely, Haley’s name is on the bottom of the VP hopeful list, behind men like Ohio’s Rob Portman and Minnesota’s Tim Pawlentey.

This may be the only time I agree with Mitt Romney, but I must say that his “Believe in America” campaign slogan, though cute and somewhat empty, has a point. We should want what’s best for America. But more importantly, we must decide which nation to focus on: the America of today, or the one we wish to live in later on. In an alternate universe, I’d wallow a bit in the improbability of a Haley VP nomination. But after her 81 budget vetoes this past week, especially one eliminating the state Arts Commission, I’m relieved. Haley’s disregard for the arts (among other things) means she’s not interested in America’s future, and what a shame.

Haley vetoed an array of organizations and initiatives she believed were an “embarrassment.” So here are just a few things you shouldn’t count on during your next trip to the Palmetto State: $10 million dollars in one-time teacher pay raises; the North Myrtle Beach museum; funding for historical African-American sites in Charleston and Hilton Head; a mass transit service between Camden and Columbia, the capital city; prescriptions for AIDS patients; and Sea Grant, a marine conservationist group.

What disturbs me most is that because Haley’s budget vetoes are effective immediately and the SC legislature hasn’t yet reconvened to possibly override her decisions, the Arts Commission no longer exists. I am a product of arts education. I spent two summers and my last two years of high school at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities, a public residential high school located in Greenville, South Carolina. The school day is a bit unorthodox, ending all academic classes around noon, so that the rest of the day (and even into the evening) is devoted to each students’ particular concentration, whether it be Creative Writing, Dance, Music, Theater, or Visual Arts. This past May, based on strictly academic criteria, Newsweek ranked us the 42nd best public school in the nation. We flaunt a 100% graduation rate, with nearly all students pursuing a higher education. The school's average AP score is 3.9, far above the national average of2.8. We also take the prize for the third highest cumulative SAT scores in the state.

I don’t remember my Governor’s School experience as a bundle of numbers and rankings. What I know I lost was a lot of sweat and tears. What I gained was both an intellectual curiosity and drive to create worthwhile art. And I can say truthfully that I was lucky enough to go to high school with some of the smartest and most talented people I know. And beyond a doubt, we all owe that to the arts. 

Contrary to Haley’s beliefs, art and intellect are intertwined. Studies show that students trained in music are more likely to excel in math and science. And a concentration in Painting while in high school is one of the reasons my best friend, now an Art History major at a top arts university in the Chicago, was flown to Indiana to present an award-winning research paper. And my concentration in Creative Writing is why I’m able to make an even half-decent argument right now, why I was awarded a national non-fiction award during my senior year in high school, why I met the President Obama, performed at the Kennedy Center, and had an exhibition in the Smithsonian all before my 18th birthday. And it's why I’ve been enrolled at the best American university for the past two years.

So it’s callous for Governor Hailey to dissolve organizations like the Arts Commission and then justify her vetoes by saying, “I know the people of this state don’t want it.” 

I, too, am a Carolinian. Like a lot of folks, I grew up in a town where tractors are allowed on the main road. And like a lot of others, my town’s phone book is only one volume, and a small volume at that. 

I bet people assume Carolinians are a little backward and incestuous, people who hear “Obamacare” and reach for their gun and Confederate flag. But Nikki said it herself, “South Carolina is changing, it’s progressing.”

We’re nothing like you think. We’ve been to Charleston market just to see the Gullah people weave sweet grass baskets right there on the street corner. We’ve roamed the Greenville Art Museum and have seen shows at Orangeburg’s BlueBird Theatre. We’ve been appreciating art in South Carolina way before Nikki Haley stepped in to rescue our tax dollars. And though some may say to hell with this Carolina, it’s in our best intellectual and cultural interest to preserve it.

Without art, what will determine our legacy? Who ever thought about the Romans, the Greeks, or Egyptians and did not remember the coliseums, philosophy, ballets, pyramids, orchestras, cathedrals, and comedy.

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Uchechi Kalu

Uchechi is PolicyMic's Politics Intern and a senior@ Princeton University. Tweet her @chechkalu

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