CAMDEN -- South Carolina politics never fails to amuse -- and bemuse. A recent ethics imbroglio between Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and GOP activist John Rainey is a case in point.
The squabble would be of passing provincial interest if Haley weren't a rising star often mentioned on lists of potential vice presidential candidates.
And had she not called Rainey, a nationally recognized philanthropist and community bridge-builder, a "racist, sexist bigot."
Such charges deserve clarification and context.
Haley made the remarks during a state House Ethics Committee hearing that was prompted by a complaint Rainey filed alleging that Haley had lobbied illegally while she was a legislator. Haley has been cleared of any wrongdoing and there's no need to re-litigate here, though Rainey promises that the issue is not dead.
Meanwhile, her invectives toward Rainey, though perhaps understandable given an exchange between them (about which more anon), are contradicted by his record. Rainey is anything but racist, sexist or bigoted.
Haley's feelings apparently had been hurt during her one meeting with Rainey while she was a gubernatorial candidate. She had sought the meeting, doubtless hoping for financial and political support, but Rainey was skeptical. He knew nothing about her at the time, he told me, and couldn't find anyone who did. Everyone he spoke to said the same thing in so many words: "I don't know anything about her, but I know she's the party's candidate and I support her."
"That," Rainey told me, "is the kind of thing that makes me want to throw up." Party loyalty over all other considerations is what ails American politics, he said.
In questioning Haley at the meeting, Rainey indicated that all cards needed to be on the table, that he didn't want to find out at some point that her family had ties to terrorists. Haley, who is of Sikh Indian descent, clearly took offense.
Nevertheless, she wrote a nice note to him, Rainey said, remarking that she never showed any indication of offense during their meeting until he raised questions about her lobbying activities. "That was the end of the meeting," Rainey said, but his curiosity was further piqued. He began probing her past and raised questions about what he viewed as ethical transgressions.
Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group