WASHINGTON, DC (WCSC/WIS) - Gov. Nikki Haley spoke at the National Press Club in the nation's capitol Wednesday, talking about what she calls "The New South," in the wake of the Charleston Church Shooting, what she says needs to be done to improve racial equality in the nation, and how to reach out to minorities in the Republican Party.
Haley's 25-minute speech laid out her resume as a two-term governor, talking about education and her jobs record.
"We went to the commerce department, and we told our economic development managers, you get a bonus for closing deals," she said.
But her speech, and the 30-minute Q & A session that followed, had the heavy undertone of racial equality.
Haley recalled her time as a child growing up in Bamberg, a small town of 2,500, in what she described as the only Indian family in town.
"We were not white enough to be white, or black enough to be black," she said.
While insisting the South today is not like the South of yesteryear, she acknowledged things are still "far from perfect."
"We still have our problems. There's still a lot more to do," she said. "But the New South, in many ways, is a place to look toward, rather than away from, when it comes to race relations."
Haley pointed to two key factors in improving racial equality: job creation and investment in education.
She touted Boeing, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo as big employers who have come to the Palmetto State.
"We have five – yes, five – worldwide tire companies with Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, Giti Tire and now Trelleborg," she said.
Haley said the state announced more than 70,000 new jobs and almost $17 billion in investment in the past five years, adding unemployment dropped from 11.1 percent in 2011 to 6.4 percent in 2015.
Those developments have a clear connection to racial equality.
"These jobs are going into places where I grew up, and many of them will go to African-Americans and other minorities," she said.
She also addressed South Carolina as lagging behind in education, but said that is changing as well.
"More than two years ago I started a conversation about education in South Carolina," Haley said. "I met with principals and teachers, superintendents and university deans, business leaders and legislators, Republicans and Democrats. I listened. I learned. And I realized the biggest challenge facing South Carolina's education system was our failure to acknowledge that it simply costs more to teach a child who lives in poverty."
Haley said the state has changed its funding formula to send additional funds to children on Medicaid or who receive free and reduced lunches. She also said the state provides reading coaches for every elementary school and has ended social promotion in schools. She also said the state is investing in technology: internet inside schools and the tools, including computers, tablets and instructional materials, to get every South Carolina student up to speed.
"So there's jobs, and there's education. If we get those two things right, and nothing else, we make enormous progress for all people, most especially for those at the lower end of the economic scale," she said.
She spoke about the reaction to the Walter Scott shooting and the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting, contrasting the reaction of South Carolinians with people who live in New York City, Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, where incidents involving white police officers and unarmed black citizens led to "civil unrest at truly awful levels."
"In South Carolina we did things differently," she told the audience. "After the horrendous death of Walter Scott, we didn't have violence. As a state, we came together, black and white, Republican and Democrat. We communicated constantly – with religious leaders, with political leaders, with community leaders. We saw the need for justice and immediately brought charges against the offending officer."
She said what followed the Walter Scott shooting was South Carolina becoming the first state in the country to approve statewide body cameras for police.
Haley called the shooting of nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church a "devastating wound" and said each new piece of information that came in was "another kick in the gut."
"What we saw in the extraordinary reaction to Charleston was people of all races coming together.," she said of the aftermath of the shooting. "We didn't have riots, we had vigils. We didn't have violence, we had hugs."
But Haley said after focusing on honoring the families and remembering the victims, the focus needed to shift to removing the Confederate flag from the State House grounds.
"The Statehouse belongs to all people, and it needed to be welcoming to all people," she said. "That was not possible with that flag flying."
She talked at length about the debate over the Confederate Flag, telling the audience "black lives matter," but that shouting and disobedience isn't the way to solve the problem.
"You can do that, but it's not going to get you anywhere," she said.
Haley took that same mentality on shouting to Capitol Hill, saying too much noise drowns out solutions. She credited the South Carolina legislature's vote to bring down the Confederate Flag as what can happen when both sides listen.
"We had legislators who truly listened to each other. They walked in each others' shoes, and that made all the difference," Haley said. "The flag came down. And South Carolina moved forward."
Haley called the Republican approach to minority voters shameful, saying it comes across as cold and distant.
"As a conservative Republican myself, I have no doubts that when it comes to jobs, education, health care, and many other policy areas, Republican principles are the right ones for lifting up all people," she said. "This is not just a black and white thing. For Indian and Asian-Americans, for Jewish-Americans, for Mexican-Americans, our party and our principles have so much to offer. It's on us to communicate our positions in ways that wipe away the clutter of prejudices."
But while Haley called on changes to the GOP approach and calmer rhetoric in both government and the Republican Party, she stuck to her conservative guns when speaking specifically on the voter ID law, saying calls that the program is racially discriminatory are misplaced.
"Requiring people to show a photo ID before they vote is a reasonable measure," Haley said. "It's not racist. If everyone was willing to stop shouting, and stop trying to score race-baiting political points, we could reach common ground."
She said that while showing a picture ID is not a burden for most people, it is a burden for some.
"So let's not throw out voter ID laws – the integrity of our democracy is too important for that," she said. "But let's figure out ways to make it easy and cost-free for every eligible voter to obtain a photo ID. That way, everyone who wants to vote, can vote."
Questions on her vice presidential prospects were some of the first out of the gate after the speech, but Haley said she isn't thinking much about it.
"If there is a time where a presidential nominee wants to sit down and talk, of course I'll sit down and talk," she said. "But I am very aware you have 16 really great candidates. That means you're going to have 15 very good potential vice-presidential candidates."
Haley insists she wants to keep her promise to the people of South Carolina.