PINOPOLIS, S.C. (AP) — Two days after she was elected the state's first female governor, Nikki Haley moved quickly to reach out to a group that will be key to the success of her legislative agenda: Senate Republicans.
"All right, let's get to work. We've got good things to do," Haley, a Republican House member, said as caucus members stood for a brief standing ovation.
Republicans control 27 of the 46 seats in the Senate, which has a tradition of independence from the state's chief executive.
"I thought there was a good tone to the message and the tone was, 'Let's work together,'" said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, a Charleston Republican. "Let's try to work together; let's not try to ambush each other politically."
"Today was a giant first step," Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler of Gaffney said.
"We have a great opportunity right now," said state Sen. Larry Grooms, a Bonneau Republican who dropped out of the governor's race early. "I think the first 100 days in office, you'll seem some major pieces of legislation pass that have been bottled up."
Haley knows the Senate's power. Her signature bill calling for more on-the-record legislative voting died there after overwhelmingly passing the House. "From the good government aspect, let's finish on-the-record voting and get that done," Haley said after the meeting.
Beyond that, she pushing for breaks to encourage small business growth and making state agencies handle business needs quickly.
Haley has been reassuring legislators for months that she'll be able to work with them and won't chart the reactionary path taken by her mentor, Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, who famously toted squirming piglets to the doors of the House to protest budget veto overrides.
Haley's courtship of senators is important, said Winthrop University political scientist Danielle Vinson: "We know from the past eight years the Senate doesn't mind overriding the governor and doing their own thing."
McConnell said Sanford's tenure has been marked by not being closely involved in important legislation or seeming to support the Legislature's efforts and then opposing compromises that took weeks to work out.
Haley said she wants to turn the page.
"Historically it's always been the House and the governor against the Senate, or the House and the Senate against the governor. And as of today, that all stops," Haley said. "We need to start talking about agendas on the front end. We need to start deciding things on the front end and that I'd be more involved in the committee process and things as they go forward so that we can show the people of this state real solutions."
By campaigning for 18 months, Haley said she's heard plenty about what's on the minds of South Carolinians and small businesses.
She said it was time to deliver rather than posture. "I'd rather do less and it mean more to the people and businesses of this state than to do a whole lot and it not touch their pockets or their bottom lines at all," Haley said.
Peeler said Tuesday's elections brought more conservatives to the state House, a trend that surely didn't go unnoticed by senators who face election in 2012. "I think it certainly got their attention. It's certainly loud and clear across South Carolina," Peeler said.