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Where it all began for Nikki Haley

Last updated on: June 23, 2010 14:18 IST

Where it all began for Nikki Haley

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Nikki Haley was the last candidate to join the Republican race for South Carolina governor.

A year later, the Indian-American state Congresswoman has won the primary and is -- barring a disaster -- almost certain to win the governor's race in November.

If Haley -- who was born to Sikh parents -- wins the November election, she will be the first lady governor, and first politician from a minority community to head the government in South Carolina, a conservative American state.

After a fundraising luncheon in July 2009, Haley had sat down with Rediff.com's Aziz Haniffa for an interview. Photographs: Paresh Gandhi

Also Read: Rediff.com's George Joseph reports from South Carolina

Traditionally, those who run for governor have either served in the United States Congress, been an attorney general or lieutenant governor, or as other candidates in the field. Some may argue that you haven't paid your dues in terms of serving in public office for a considerable period of time. How do you counter these arguments?

The most effective officials are those that are not career politicians. It's those that understand what real people feel with their wallets -- what real businesses are feeling with their bottom line and what those that are losing their jobs are feeling.

Spending is the key to everything we are facing in South Carolina and jobs are the key. My focus is on these two things and I don't think you need to be a career politician to understand that South Carolina needs to have drastic change to the way their state is governed and it needs to happen quickly.

You could face criticism from the other candidates in the South that you've raised a lot of money from Indian Americans and from outside of South Carolina. How do you counter this kind of ethnic argument that is sure to come up?

This is one of the criticisms that Bobby Jindal ran into when he made his first bid for governor and raised significant money from the Indian-American community from outside of Louisiana?

My goal is to show people that I am going to be there to represent everyone. I appreciate and will take all the support that comes my way, but at the end of the day, I am going to work hard to represent all people of South Carolina.


Image: Nikki Haley speaks after her victory on Wednesday
Photographs: Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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'I honour my mother and my father everyday'

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How do you balance your ethnicity and the fact that you are indeed going to represent all South Carolinians?

Ethnicity can be a strength but, particularly in the South, there is always the race factor -- the apprehension that someone like you will be perceived as foreign though you were born and raised in South Carolina and are an all-American girl?

You know, I honour my mother and my father everyday. I am very proud of the way they raised me. I am proud of the culture that I was born into, but now, I am there to represent all people of South Carolina and I think that they will not focus on ethnicity or gender.

I think they will focus on the fact that I am willing to roll up my sleeves and get the job done at the end of the day so that we see an increase in jobs and we see a reduction in spending. And, that the government starts to work for the people and it is not about the people working for the government.

It's quite amazing that Governor (Mark) Sanford has come out in support of you even though there are other longtime career politicians from the Republican Party in the fray. What accounts for this? Is it a rapport you have developed with him or is it a case of his having followed your track record?

I believe he has watched my track record. He understands that I believe in action, and not just talking about the problems. And he knows that I am a conservative voice that fights for strong accountability in government and understands the issues facing our state and our country when it comes to spend.

I appreciate the fact that he's been a stronger supporter of mine up till now, and I look toward earning his support just like I do everybody else's in the state.


Image: Nikki Haley with her husband and children after her win

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'I am very proud of who I am, the parents that I was born to'

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Indian Americans feel Bobby Jindal ignored them because he doesn't want to expose his ethnicity to the majority population in Louisiana by being seen with them.

How will you assure Indian Americans, who come out strongly in favour of your candidacy and raise funds for you that you would not ignore them and feel embarrassed to wear your ethnicity on your sleeve after your win?

You know, again, my goal is to run a race that makes everyone proud. I am very proud of who I am, the parents that I was born to, the way I was raised. And, now, I have a husband that in the military and I understand the value of service.

I am going to run this race in a way that not only makes them proud before the election, but after the election.

I don't know the issues that Bobby has faced. (But) I know how I am and I know how I accept myself. My goal is going to represent the people in South Carolina in a way that makes everyone proud of how I do that.


Image: Nikki Haley's parents, Dr Ajit and Raj Randhawa

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