Is Gov. Nikki Haley growing in face of crisis?

Cindi Scoppe first raised the question in her column yesterday headlined, “Is SC computer breach transforming Gov. Nikki Haley?” The column was made possible by one of the first signs of new maturity in our governor — a phone conversation with editorial writers (as opposed to her usual pep rally with her admirers on her Facebook page), to engage in actual dialogue about the Department of Revenue hacking mess:

… (F)rom her first public utterances, Gov. Nikki Haley insisted that there was nothing anyone in state government could have done to prevent the breach.

Even more troubling were her assurances that weren’t so absurd on their face. She said that hacking experts told her thieves usually use stolen data within six to eight months and that “Usually after a year, they don’t see anything,” but security experts say that while that’s true with credit card numbers, just the opposite is true with Social Security numbers. She insisted that leaving Social Security numbers unencrypted was an “industry standard” in the banking industry, but some banking officials disputed that. She said other states didn’t encrypt their data, but failed to mention that our go-to comparison neighbors, North Carolina and Georgia, do.

I’ve never been comfortable with the governor’s tendency to speak in absolutes, of her black-and-white sense of certainty. But there’s a world of difference between being careless or misleading when defending yourself from political attacks or engaging in policy debates and doing the same thing when what you say affects how 4.25 million current and former South Carolinians make potentially life-changing decisions about their personal financial security.

So it was a relief earlier this month when, confronted by comments to the contrary by an investigator hired by the state, the governor told reporters that she didn’t yet know enough to say whether anyone could have prevented the breach. Of course, she also insisted that she had never said otherwise. Still it was a start.

Then during a conference call with editorial writers on Friday, Ms. Haley gave an uncharacteristically tentative answer to a question about the hacking and added: “Understand that I can’t speak in absolutes because I feel like I learn something new every day.”

“I hesitate on saying whether there was something internal or external, because the one thing I think I’ve learned in this is you can’t talk in absolutes,” she said a few minutes later, noting that after she thought she knew everything about the hacking, “the second day they added more, the third day they added more … .”

Yes, as Cindi noted, the governor still doesn’t know how to acknowledge her mistakes. She follows more the Orwellian approach of adopting a new line and insisting it has always been her line. Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia…

But let’s embrace the encouraging new signs. This is a major development, for Nikki Haley to base her perceptions of the world on actual facts and experience, rather than her ideological, self-affirming preconceptions. For an unsullied ideologue like our governor, for whom truth has been whatever aphorisms help to get her elected, to start learning a little more each day, and recognize she’s doing so, and actually apply the lessons she’s learning, makes for a great day in South Carolina, compared to what we’ve known.

After trying out her new approach on editorialists, our governor has gone public with it:

Columbia, SC — As more South Carolinians learned that hackers hold their tax return data, Gov. Nikki Haley admitted Tuesday that the state did not do enough to protect their sensitive financial information and accepted the resignation of the agency director in the middle of the controversy.

“Could South Carolina have done a better job? Absolutely, or we would not be standing here,” said Haley, who had insisted in the first days after revealing the cyber attack that nothing could have prevented the breach.

Hackers possess Social Security and other data belonging to 5.7 million people – 3.8 million taxpayers and their 1.9 million dependents, Haley said. The number of businesses affected has risen slightly to nearly 700,000. All of the stolen tax data dating back to 1998 was unencrypted.

The theft at the S.C. Department of Revenue is the largest known hacking at a state agency nationwide…

Note how she can’t resist using the word “absolutely,” even in connection with an assertion that is the opposite of what she’d said earlier (which means either it’s not absolute, or she was absolutely wrong earlier).

But hey, when your child starts to speak, do you castigate her for immature pronunciation? This is a start, and I’m inclined to celebrate it, and hope our governor continues her journey out of her hothouse bubble and keeps engaging the world as it actually is.

14 thoughts on “Is Gov. Nikki Haley growing in face of crisis?

  1. Randy E

    As a former resident who is getting sucked back under the auspices of the circus that is SC government I see NO encouraging signs. Haley was a lightweight to begin with. Given this such a blunder should be no surprise. The insistence of “conservatives” to elect those well versed in their propaganda are as much at fault. This was a major issue in April yet because she partially admits some possible culpability she gets a measure of credit?!?

  2. Ralph Hightower

    Governot Nikki Haley may have appeared more humble with talking with The State during a private conference call.

    But now that this is past her, she’s got to put her game face on before the public and not appear vulnerable. So she has reverted back to one of her two standard plays in her gamebook: Blame the Federal Government!

    Why blame the Federal government? Because the IRS only requires data encryption when information is being transmitted. The IRS doesn’t require data encryption if the data is at rest.

    Now, Governot Haley is saying that the IRS should have required the states to encrypt their data.

    Huh? This statement is coming from a governor who tells the Federal government “Get out of our way!” Don’t forget that Governot Haley said that DOR didn’t encrypt their data because it wasn’t an industry standard. She’s now flip-flopping like Kerry and Romney.

    Any signs of growth or maturity in Governot Haley only increases her reelectability. But I predict that Governot Haley will soon return to her juvenile behavior.

    Frankly, South Carolina cannot afford to have Governot Haley for another four years. She should be a one term governor like Beastley and Hodges.

    There’s just 783 days left before we get a better governor.

  3. Cicero

    Color me unimpressed. For one thing, her announcement that the number of social security numbers that were compromised has jumped from 3.8 million to 5.7 million is more smoke and mirrors. The extra 1.9 million reflects the social security numbers of dependents of South Carolinians who had filed tax returns, she said Tuesday.

    Her office had to know this quite some time ago, and was withholding the larger number in an effort to mitigate the bad news initially. Anyone who is interested in providing an accurate count of just how many social security numbers have been stolen from a certain number of compromised tax forms is going to count ALL the social security numbers listed on the forms, not just the number of the individual who filed it. Even Haley’s office isn’t that stupid. Of course, I now wonder if the 3.3 million figure counts married couples as a single number, or if they are registering a married couple as two two numbers, since each has a separate SSN.

    Bottom line: Same old Nikki Haley.

  4. Nick Nielsen

    I’m thinking a lot of our governor’s preconceptions have come tumbling down around her ears in the last month.

    One can only hope she is beginning to learn.

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    And the IRS responded, “Nuh unh.” WIS reported that the IRS disputes Haley’s assertions about their standards of data security.

  6. Scout

    So what you’re saying Ralph is that Haley’s position seems to be she would prefer more regulation from the federal government, in this instance. (i.e. if they wanted us to encrypt SSNs they should have required it).

    What happened to the state’s right to run things as they see fit that the low-government types are supposed to prefer. If the state chooses a path with a higher risk, as is their right, are they not required to accept the responsibility for that choice if something goes wrong.

    This is precisely why the position that the federal department of education should be abolished troubles me. I don’t trust SC to provide for special needs students, to push to improve it’s standards, to push to hire qualified teachers, etc. without the influence of the feds in these areas. Even with the feds pressure, we still can’t do it right (recall loss of funds for special ed students due to our underspending).
    Further, the main reason we know that we have problems with our education system is because of federal reporting requirements. I cynically feel that SC, on it’s own, would probably be happy to sweep low performance under the rug and tell us everything is fine.

  7. Brad

    Actually, Scout, I don’t think that last part is true. One of our problems with meeting the federal “adequate yearly progress” measurements was that we set higher standards than most states, and were judged by how well we met those standards, while other states looked better because they were measured against lower standards.

    That situation has been fixed to some extent, I believe, but for several years, the federal standards system was making SC look worse than it was — simply because we had set high standards.

  8. Scout

    You’re right. I do know that we set high standards to start with when many other states didn’t. I like that we set high standards, and I concede that part doesn’t fit my model so well – I’m still kind of amazed that that happened. But the having to come up with standards, at all, and having to check how we were doing in relation to them and make that public – that was all from the feds – and I’m really not sure we would have done it on our own. But maybe.

  9. Kathryn Fenner

    But what if the bar is set so high just to justify saying the public schools are failing, so pay for my kid to go to private school?

  10. Ralph Hightower


    Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. If you have read Governot Haley’s statements, not relating to the data breach, she has told the Federal government “Get out of our way!”

    Now, Governot Haley is saying that the damage wouldn’t have been as bad as it was if only the IRS had required the states to implement data encryption. Since the IRS doesn’t require encryption of data storage, South Carolina chose the easy way out and did nothing.

    So yes, Governot Haley, in this case, is asking for more federal regulation. She is saying that this wouldn’t have happened if the IRS required data encryption, not only during transmission, but when the data was at rest.

    And yes, she is once again, blaming the Federal government for South Carolina’s problems.

  11. Doug Ross

    Those “standards” mean nothing. High, low, whatever. They never made any difference in the quality of education. I had three kids go thru ten years of PACT testing.

  12. Ralph Hightower


    You can also expect sometime in the future that Governot Haley will play the “race card”, that she is an Indian-American.

    SC Governot Haley is not an American Indian because her parent were born in India, not America.

    I’ve just read excerpts from her fictional autobiography “Can’t is not an Option” I prefer to read science fiction over fictional autobiographies from her, Sara Palin, and Michelle Bachman. I refuse to spend money on such drivel.

  13. Doug Ross

    Isn’t it a simple question: Is there a measurable, noticeable difference in the quality of the students coming out of South Carolina high schools today compared to twenty years ago after all the standardized testing? I don’t see it. A school district like Richland Two is performing worse both according to the test results and using the basic eyeball test. Why is that? Uncontrolled growth that could not be matched by hiring quality teachers to match the growth. When you open a new school every year for 15 years, it’s impossible to find high quality teachers to staff them.

  14. Lynn

    Nikki Haley, always certain and never in doubt, the saga continues.

    Brad: as our resident Roman Catholic care to provide an educational moment on contrition?

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