The moral test of government in SC

Last week, Gov. Nikki Haley was sworn in for her second four-year term and a new legislature 1-21 Page 4A.inddconvened in the Statehouse. This seems like an appropriate time to look back on their record over the last four years.

Gov. Haley delivered a short Inaugural Address in which she laid out her ideas for the next four years. This caused me to begin to think about the standards and measures we use to evaluate what government does and what it ought to do.

In short: What is the test by which we should judge what government should do?

In thinking about what would be a good standard, I began by Googling a number of terms, such as “economic test of government,” “accountability test of government,” “effectiveness test of government,” and “moral test of government.”

Most of these searches turned up lots of items, none of which were particularly useful. The last search turned up a quote from Hubert Humphrey that I had heard long ago but forgotten.

“The moral test of government,” Humphrey said, “is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

What a wonderful idea – and a wonderful standard to measure what government is doing. So let’s apply this standard and the standard of her own words in her Inaugural Address to Gov. Haley’s past four years in office.

Test one: “…those who are in the dawn of life, the children.”

In her Inaugural Address, Haley said, “In the South Carolina I dream of, a daughter of Dillon starts each day with the same hope and possibilities as a son of Greenville.”

Last month, Gov. Haley filed a motion with the SC Supreme Court asking them to overturn their recent decision in the Abbeville education case. After 21 years of litigation, the SC Supreme Court ruled that students in the plaintiff districts were not even receiving the “minimally adequate” education to which they are entitled under previous Supreme Court rulings, and ordered the governor and the legislature to act expeditiously to begin to fix the problem.

One of the plaintiff counties where the schools were ruled so inadequate was … Dillon.

After the above line in Gov. Haley’s address, she said, “In that South Carolina, a single mother of two feeling stuck in her job knows that if she wants it, a better opportunity is waiting just around the corner.”

But for that “single mother of two feeling stuck in her job,” the court-ordered child support from her children’s father is vital. And the Haley administration has failed to ensure she gets it.

South Carolina is the only state in the union that does not have an adequate computer system to track the earnings of “deadbeat dads” across county lines to ensure that they pay their child support. In fairness to Haley, the system has been broken since before she came to office but in her four years she has not given it sufficient priority to get it fixed. Every other state in the union has figured it out, but not South Carolina and we have paid more than $100 million in Federal fines for this failure.

Yes, you read that right — more than $100 million in fines … and the problem continues today under Gov. Haley.

Test Two: “…those who are in the shadows of life, the sick…”

Gov. Haley didn’t say anything about heath care in her Inaugural Address, nothing at all. This is really not too surprising given what she has done, or more importantly has not done, on health care in the last four years.

What she has done is turn down $11 billion in federal funding to expand Medicaid in South Carolina. Yes, that’s a ‘b’ as in billion. This is not the place for a long discussion of federal health care policy, but the simple fact is that this $11 billion would have provided health care for 500,000 of our friends and neighbors who need health care and can’t afford it.

And this $11 billion would have created tens of thousands of jobs for health care and construction workers and a whole lot more. Her actions did not raise or lower our taxes by one penny, but it did ensure that the tax money we paid into the system to fund the expansion went to other states – she gave our health care dollars to other states.

Test Three: “…those that are…needy…” Gov. Haley didn’t say anything about the needy in her Inaugural Address. But she will have to say something soon – in a court of law.

Last week, she and the state of South Carolina were sued over widespread deficiencies in the child foster-care system. The suit says that the system has endangered thousands of children, many of whom were dehumanized, belittled and abused. The suit received national media attention; National Public Radio cited “years of high-profile problems including the death of five children.”

Test Four: “… those that are…handicapped”. Once again, Gov. Haley didn’t say anything in her Inaugural Address about these folks, nor did she say anything about the recent suit where Judge Michael Baxley ruled against the state prison system for its treatment of the mentally handicapped.

The Judge’s ruling detailed the treatment of the handicapped in SC prisons: “…inmates have died in the SC Department of Corrections for lack of basic mental health care and hundreds more remain substantially at risk for serious physical injury, mental decompensation, and profound permanent mental illness.” That is the proper, antiseptic legal language of a judge; this is the language of one journalist describing one case: “…mentally ill inmates are routinely caged (naked) for days in their own feces and urine, having to literally eat where they s—t.”

And what has Gov. Haley done or said to deal with these problems since the Judge’s ruling? Nothing that we have been able to find.

So, I’ll leave it to you, the people of South Carolina, to make your own evaluation of Gov. Haley’s score on the moral test of government.

One thing she did say: “It’s a great day in South Carolina.”

The question is, for whom?

Phil Noble is a businessman in Charleston and president of the SC New Democrat, an independent reform group started by former Gov. Richard Riley. He can be reached at