by Chris Haire
I hate defending Nikki Haley. I really do.
In a perfect world, Gov. Haley would stumble from one muck-up to the next, like the Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull in a china shop. And most of the time she does. And nowhere is that more evident than with this whole Savannah Port-DHEC brouhaha.
See, according to the story we've all been told, DHEC staff rejected a water quality permit that would have allowed the dredging stage of the Savannah Port upgrade to move forward. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal didn't much like this, so he met with Haley and asked her to urge the DHEC board to approve an appeal hearing. Haley did and DHEC granted the port project a hearing. Then that hearing took place and the DHEC board overturned the staff decision denying the permit. Sometime in or around all that, Haley held a fundraiser in Georgia at a lawfirm with ties to the port, ties which she later lied about. And if you believe the whispers, the whole thing was really about Haley getting a primetime speaking spot at the 2012 Republican National Convention. Whew.
Well, a key part of that story is just wrong. In fact, I'm not sure why anybody keeps reporting it. The truth of the matter is, the DHEC board of directors did not overturn the staff decision denying the permit. That simply didn't happen.
I've talked to DHEC spokesperson Adam Myrick on several occasions about this matter and I've gone over what's supposed to be every single piece of e-mail between DHEC staff and the Georgia Ports Authority staff from Sept. 1, 2011, to Nov. 30, 2011, and the one thing that all of that wasted time and energy indicated was that the DHEC staff met with the Army Corps of Engineers and the GPA and came to an agreement. And only after that decision was made did the DHEC board approve the staff's decision to aprove the port project.
Considering that simple fact alone, there was absolutely no reason for the Senate Medical Affairs committee to hold a hearing in November to find out why the DHEC board reversed the DHEC staff's earlier decision. Why? There was no reversal on the board of directors' part. They didn't change their minds about jack shit. In fact, as much as it pains me to say it, that particular committee hearing is looking more and more like the bit of political theater that Haley said it was.
Given all of that, it's simply not clear why the Medical Affairs committee staged the hearing in the first place — or what they hoped to find? Was it to simply embarrass Haley and to give her a public in-out, in-outing? Or was it a move on the part of her defenders to protect the governor from a possible future investigation since the committee's ruling ultimately declared that the Savannah Port-DHEC decision was all on the up and up? Who knows? Certainly not me. I mean, if the Senate Medical Affairs committee really wanted to get to the bottom of it, why didn't they talk to DHEC staff? They're the ones who reversed their decision, not the board. Ugh.
But one thing is clear, this matter is not settled. In fact, yesterday, the entire state House of Representatives — that's 111 people, folks — voted to nix the deal. Evidently, this theatrical production is just getting underway. I hear that's if all goes well, it'll headline Spoleto this year. Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed.