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SC Governor Nikki Haley Chosen to Become UN Ambassador

by Countable | 3.20.17

President-elect Donald Trump has selected South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) — a vocal critic of his during the Republican primary and his presidential campaign — to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. "Governor Haley has a proven track record of bringing people together regardless of background or party affiliation to move critical policies forward for the betterment of her state and our country," Trump said in a statement.

Who is Nikki Haley?

Haley, who will turn 45 on Jan. 20 the day of Trump’s inauguration, was born Nimrata Randhawa in Bamberg, South Carolina, to Sikh parents from the state of Punjab in northern India. Her father, Ajit Singh Randhawa, was an assistant professor at Punjab Agricultural University, and her mother, Raj Kaur Randhawa, had earned a law degree, but they uprooted their growing family and migrated to Canada so he could accept a scholarship to the University of British Columbia. He completed his PhD in 1969, and the family again moved, this time to South Carolina so that he could teach at Voorhees College, a historically black school. He retired in 1998 as chairman of the college’s Department of Natural Sciences. His wife earned a master’s in education and taught in public schools for seven years before opening Exotica International, a women’s clothing store, in 1976.

The Randhawas were the first family of Indian descent to reside in Bamberg, and there were days when they may have felt less than welcome, such as the time when 5-year-old Haley and her 9-year-old sister, Simran, were disqualified from the annual Little Miss Bamberg Pageant. The contest crowned two pageant winners, one black and one white, and the judges decided that the Randhawa girls were neither.

To her family, Haley, who also has two brothers, has been known as Nikki — a nickname meaning "little one" — nearly since birth. She graduated from Clemson University in 1994 with a degree in accounting and was briefly employed by a waste-management company before going to work for her mother. Together, they turned Exotica International into a multimillion-dollar firm.

Her entry into politics in 2004 was inspired, ironically, by a speech given by Hillary Clinton. Haley challenged Larry Koon for a seat in the state House of Representatives despite the fact that Koon, having won every election since 1975, was the House’s longest-serving member. The primary forced a runoff, which Haley won, and she took the seat unopposed, becoming the first member of the American Sikh community to hold office in South Carolina.

In 2010, she defeated the Democratic nominee, Vincent Sheheen, to become only the second Indian-American to hold gubernatorial office and the first Sikh. The nation’s youngest governor, she was considered as a potential running mate by 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney before he chose Paul Ryan, now the Speaker of the House.

Nikki Randhawa and Michael Haley met as students at Clemson and married in 1996. A converted Methodist, she says she regularly attends Methodist and Sikh services but calls herself a Christian. The couple lives in the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia, the state capital, with their daughter, Rena, 18, and son, Nalin, 14.

What’s the outlook for her confirmation?

Haley will probably cruise to confirmation. The Republicans contend that both her gender and her ethnic background would add a dose of diversity to Trump’s Cabinet and senior-level appointments. Plus, her relatively moderate views would counter Trump’s pointed criticisms of the U.N., and the fact that she questioned Trump’s GOP bona fides – quipping that "the American people did not vote for him because he had an ‘R’ next to his name" – suggests that she would not be averse to challenging his opinion on key issues.

While her wider views on many world topics remain unknown, Haley is pro-Israel and has expressed concern over the resettlement of Syrian refugees in South Carolina. She is also pro-life, which could conflict with the U.N.’s championing of sexual and reproductive rights for women.

The Democrats cite her limited foreign policy experience as a negative but acknowledge her role in the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House in 2015 and her refusal to join fellow Republican governors in suing the Obama administration to block the Syrian resettlement. So Haley will likely sail through the confirmation hearings with limited pushback.

You can tell your senators how to vote on Haley's confirmation using the "Take Action" button below.

What does an Ambassador to the U.N. do?

U.N. ambassadors represent their countries’ interests on the General Assembly and/or the Security Council. The primary duty of the U.S. ambassador, who sits on both, is to keep the State Department informed of all developments at the U.N. and to recommend a course of action to the president and the secretary of state. She can also lobby for Security Council resolutions and block the confirmation of secretaries-general. Only the secretary-general is considered as visible a presence at the U.N. as the U.S. ambassador.

— Erin Wright

(Photo Credit: Governor Nikki Haley via Flickr / Public Domain)

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