Players: Nikki Haley, Republican Governor of South Carolina; Renee Dudley, a writer for The Post and Courier newspaper based in Charleston, South Carolina.
The Opening Serve: On September 5, Renee Dudley's article detailing Haley's trip to Europe, "European vacation or legitimate business..." appeared on The Post and Courier's Web site. "Gov. Nikki Haley's weeklong trip to Europe in June in search of "jobs, jobs, jobs" cost South Carolinians more than $127,000," wrote Dudley. "But the governor and her entourage of more than two dozen returned without any finished deals to bring new employers to the Palmetto State." Dudley highlights the governor's spending and lavish parties including quotes from the state's Democratic officials that compare Haley to lavish spender Marie Antoinette.
Haley, who captured the governor's office preaching fiscal restraint, spent the cash so she, her husband and the rest of the state's contingent could stay in five-star hotels; sip cocktails at the Paris Ritz; dine on what an invitation touted as "delicious French cuisine" at a swanky rooftop restaurant; and rub elbows with the U.S. Ambassador to France at his official residence near the French presidential palace.
Dudley also explains the governor's evasiveness when pushed on these expenses:
Following repeated requests, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said Thursday he would "find three to five minutes" for a phone interview with the governor, but by Friday Godfrey said in an email "the governor is not available." Godfrey said in the email that the governor had offered the newspaper an "exclusive opportunity to accompany the delegation" to Europe to "cover, first hand, the productivity of the trip." The newspaper declined.
The Return Volley: Haley wrote a piece that appeared on the Post and Courier's Web Site today entitled, "European trip a sound investment." She writes, "The Sept. 4 Post and Courier article about the June trade and economic development meetings I attended in Europe painted a grossly inaccurate picture." Haley defends her trip and wrote, "I spend a large part of every single day encouraging businesses to come to South Carolina. Economic development is a critically important job for any governor, and one I take very seriously... With nearly 11 percent unemployment in our state, every job matters, and I'll fight for each one of them." Haley adds, "Boeing is a major employer and investor in our state, and it had a large presence at the Paris conference; BMW, another large employer in our state, has its headquarters in Munich. I would have been remiss in my duties as governor if I did not put South Carolina's best foot forward in those venues and meet with their key executive teams." Haley also manages to squeeze a line in about Southern cuisine. "Now, none of this means that when we're recruiting big dollars, we shouldn't also watch our pennies," she writes. "It's fun for a reporter to write about an invitation that touts "delicious French cuisine," but believe me, I'll take South Carolina barbeque any day over French delicacies."
In closing, she tackles the alleged cost of the trip and The Post and Courier's accusations:
The fact is, we took care to cut our costs. We got BMW to provide transportation for a majority of the trip, saving taxpayers thousands. Each participating South Carolina economic development alliance contributed to the cost of the trip, thereby reducing state dollars. Our schedule was jam-packed with meetings from early morning until late at night. We invited The Post and Courier along to report on the entire trip and see for itself how we conducted ourselves. Unfortunately, it chose not to join us.
Economic development trips abroad don't come up all that often, and in truth, they are just a small part of our ongoing, daily efforts to boost the South Carolina economy.
What They Say They're Fighting About: If Haley's trip to Europe was successful.
What They're Really Fighting About: Haley's image. Dudley and the Post and Courier contend that it's hypocritical for a Republican Governor who was elected on tenets of "financial restraint" to be taking expensive, luxurious "business" trips to Europe. Essentially Dudley paints Haley as an elitist, or at least having "elite" tastes. Haley defends herself by showing her penny-pinching ways (the BMW-sponsored transportation, using the development alliance's money versus tax-payer money). And there are no mistakes when both parties mention Haley's food tastes, as the charges of enjoying "delicious French cuisine" and shrugging said cuisine off in favor of "South Carolina barbeque" are loaded with cultural and political implications and insinuations.
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Who's Winning Now: The Post and Courier with a little bit of help from Haley. Haley may have tripped up in one of her own arguments. In terms of cutting cost, she mention she does so, but also mentions that she and her team were cruising around Europe in (presumably) BMWs, which is a luxury brand in its own right. And in terms of Haley and her team being evasive versus the Post and Courier's pass on the trip, it's more responsible just based on a conflict of interest and journalistic integrity for The Post and Courier to decline the trip. We aren't sure if The Post and Courier has the budget to independently pay for the trip and would be risking a conflict of interest if Haley's team picked up the tab. Haley's and her team's evasive nature when approached for an interview about their expenses is a little harder to excuse.