COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Gov. Nikki Haley has incensed South Carolina legislators by suggesting people need to take a shower after talking to them.
On Tuesday, Haley told a group of Realtors that they should "take a good shower" after leaving the Statehouse. Her comments are heard early in a 25-minute video of her speech that her office posted on YouTube. The comments come amid a debate between Haley and fellow Republicans over how to fund road construction.
House Speaker Jay Lucas took the chamber floor Wednesday to say such insults are inappropriate and unhelpful to the debate process.
People expect better of their public officials, "not name-calling, not middle school insults that serve no purpose," said Lucas, R-Hartsville, who received a standing ovation from the House. "This chamber has worked so diligently to remove that kind of rancor." He was particularly referring to the relationship between the Republican governor and GOP House leaders.
After his speech, the newly elected speaker received handshakes, hugs and pats on the back.
In response, Haley spokeswoman Chaney Adams said the governor has made similar comments for the past decade and stands by them, even while she stressed that Haley — herself a former House member — didn't specifically refer to legislators in the sentence they call offensive.
"She herself works in the Statehouse, as do her staff, and hundreds of politicians and lobbyists. It's nothing personal, and there's no need for crocodile tears," Adams said. "Taxpayers need to have a healthy skepticism about what goes on in Columbia, just like in Washington."
In the recorded comments, Haley said: "Because I know many of you are going to the Statehouse, which I love, just make sure you take a good shower when you leave. We've got some things changing over at the Statehouse. The issue that I have is that we work hard to build the business climate. And legislators don't feel the burn like we do. Legislators don't remember what it was like when you go through days without a sale. Legislators don't remember the complaints that we hear from business owners and from property owners. Legislators don't remember what it means to truly live day to day."
Lucas called those comments inappropriate. Unlike members of Congress, he said, South Carolina's legislators are considered part-time lawmakers, who come to Columbia three days a week for half the year.
"All of us have jobs and live in the real world," he said.
The House floor was abuzz over Haley's speech after Realtors started calling members about it, said House Majority Leader Bruce Bannister, R-Greenville.
He said he believes it was just a careless comment meant as a joke.
But "there's a time and place for everything," he said. "Even if it's meant in jest, it's just not appropriate."
Haley's comments to the Realtors came the same day a House Ways and Means panel advanced a road-funding bill she has threatened to veto. She has also pledged to veto a Senate panel's road-funding proposal, which was being debated Wednesday afternoon.
South Carolina's Department of Transportation has said it needs an additional $1.5 billion yearly over the next 20 years to bring roads to good condition. Haley has said she's willing to support a 10-cent increase in the gas tax, but only if it's accompanied by a massive income tax cut. Her plan would reduce general fund revenues by $1.8 billion yearly when fully implemented, while raising $400 million yearly designated to road construction.
Legislators of both parties oppose that plan.