On Wednesday, the appointment of South Carolina’s Indian-American Governor Nikki Haley as US ambassador to the United Nations created history as she became the first ever Indian-American Cabinet rank official in any administration. Haley will also be the first woman to join Trump’s administration and would replace Samantha Power as the next US Ambassador to the UN. But who is the 44-year-old Indian-origin politician who was once seen as a potential vice-presidential candidate?
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Born Nimrata Randhawa on January 20, 1972 to Sikh parents of Indian-origin, Nikki Haley came into the spotlight in American politics when she ran for the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2004. Although she lost to incumbent state representative Larry Koon in the primary election she went on to defeat him in the run-offs, becoming the first Indian-American to hold office in South Carolina. She went on to serve two more terms in office.
Nikki Haley’s major breakthrough came in 2009, when she announced that she would be running for Governor of South Carolina in 2010 as the Republican nominee. She was initially last in the GOP race but endorsements by the likes of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin led to her winning 45 per cent of the vote. Haley won the subsequent run-off and was elected governor on November 2, 2010, over the Democratic candidate, Vincent Sheheen. With her gubernatorial win, Haley became the third non-white governor of a southern state in US after Virginia’s L Douglas Wilder and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal.
Nikki Haley ran for a second term in 2014, announcing her decision on August 12, 2013. Her opponent again was Democratic party’s Vincent Sheheen, who she defeated by almost triple the previous margin of victory. She was re-elected on November 4, 2014, with her term expiring in January 2019.
Her political rise was noticed at a national scale when in early 2016 she was recognised as a potential candidate for the Vice Presidency. But with Donald Trump becoming the presumptive presidential nominee in May 2016, Haley ended her interest in the vice presidential nomination.
Regarding her view on economic policies, Nikki Haley has always supported lower taxes and opposed regulation. She has also advocated for ease of doing business in South Carolina, inviting business establishments to invest in the state.
She has also strongly stood for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State Capitol. She was the one who led the calls for removal of the Confederate flag following the June 2015 Charleston shooting stating that the State Capitol and its grounds “are a place that everybody should feel a part of”.
Regarding LGBT issues, Nikki Haley has strongly opposed legislations which required transgender individuals to use restrooms based on biological sex instead of gender identity. She has also called such legislations unnecessary.
Maintaining consistency with the views of Republican party, Nikki Haley is pro-life. She has supported bills protecting the rights of the fetus and restricting abortion, although believing that it should be allowed when the life of the mother is at risk. She has also maintained that “as daughter of immigrants”, strict immigration laws must be enforced. She has supported laws requiring voter photo identification.
In 2016, Nikki Haley was named in Time magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People’. She was also attacked by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Twitter after she called for him to release his tax records. She replied by tweeting “bless your heart” for which she received extensive press coverage. She supported Marco Rubio during the Republican primaries providing her official endorsement to him.
She is married to Michael Haley and has identified herself as Christian ever since. She also has received an honorary doctorate in public service from the University of South Carolina.
Haley, a Republican, said this month’s elections have brought exciting changes to America. “Our country faces enormous challenges here at home and internationally. Last week, President-elect Trump asked if I would meet with him to discuss those challenges, which I was happy to do. He has asked that I serve our country as our next Ambassador to the United Nations. Pending confirmation by the US Senate, I have agreed,” she explained.
Haley’s nomination is a turning point for the Indian-American community which is increasingly playing greater role in American politics.