SC-Governor: Nikki Haley and the Bass Pro Bill

A controversy over a fishing store reveals a lot about the Republican nominee for governor of South Carolina.
by | June 23, 2010

With her resounding victory in the South Carolina Republican runoff yesterday, Nikki Haley is being hailed as a Republican rising star. But, the reasons most people are hailing her are pretty superficial. She's young, a woman and not white in party that needs to do a better job attracting voters who are young, women and not white. Fair enough, but on policy Haley is a pretty interesting person too.

To see why, all you need to do is look at what has been a hot issue in South Carolina politics: legislation to provide millions of dollars in tax incentives to Bass Pro Shops to build a store in Greer, South Carolina.

Most Republicans around the country -- and, in fact, most politicians regardless of party -- support these sorts of incentives. Tax cuts for businesses to create jobs: Why wouldn't a Republican love that? Even if everyone agrees that in theory the world would be better off if no jurisdiction offered tax incentives, most politicians aren't willing to let their own jurisdiction unilaterally disarm.

Gov. Mark Sanford, though, has been a politician who cares far more than most about what is right in theory. He's been a consistent critic of the Bass Pro incentives as a threat to the free market. Here's what he said in his 2008 State of the State address:

Two, let’s take a step back from the practice of having people in politics pick winners and losers in the commercial market. Our focus should lie in making this state a better place for all businesses, and toward that end, we think it is important to strip out the special legislation voted in for Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops.

I am a hunter and would love for them to expand in our state, I just do not believe we should pay each of them $9,000,000 to do so - and in that process wipe out smaller businesses that have been here for years.

No one I have talked to understands why it makes good sense to offer one hunting and fishing store lots of incentives and then nothing for others that have been here for years. I believe if we are serious about bettering the business climate for all businesses, this repeal is a great place to start.

In 2007, the legislature approved a law that would have offered incentives to large retailers such as Bass Pro, but the effort stalled when South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster deemed it unconstitutional. Supporters in the legislature proposed a revised bill with incentives for Bass Pro earlier this year, but it was defeated in the House. One of those voting against the incentives was Nikki Haley.

Haley's supporters, including the Sanfords, would cite that vote as one of many pieces of evidence that Haley is different from most Republican politicians. She actually acts on Republican principles. She's serious about reducing government's role.

Then again, Haley's detractors probably also would point to the vote as evidence of what makes her different. They'd say she lets ideology trump pragmatism.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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