- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley said Thursday she’s optimistic about getting ethics reform through the South Carolina Legislature next year.

The newly re-elected Republican governor said the Legislature feels pressure following former House Speaker Bobby Harrell’s guilty plea to campaign spending violations. As part of his plea deal, the Charleston Republican agreed to help in any other investigations into legislative wrongdoing.

Since 2012, lawmakers of both parties have called strengthening the state’s weak ethics laws a top priority. But, while they created lots of study committees, nothing’s cleared both chambers. A bill died in the Senate earlier this year after being stripped of any changes to the current system of legislative committees overseeing legislators’ campaign filings and handling ethics complaints against their own members.

Haley, whose 2012 clearing by the House Ethics Committee renewed public calls for ethics reform, has since insisted that efforts include independent investigations of legislators. When Haley was cleared of allegations she lobbied for former employers while in the House, she agreed with the committee’s findings that gray areas of the law should be cleaned up and began pushing for changes.

“We’ve talked about cleaning up Columbia enough,” Haley said in her victory speech Tuesday night, following her decisive win over state Sen. Vincent Sheheen. “This is the year we will clean up Columbia. This is the year we will make sure you trust your government again.”

She said Thursday that legislators tell her they “get it” now.

Haley said she’s excited about working with a new speaker, calling her relationship with the House under Harrell almost nonexistent. Republican Rep. Jay Lucas, of Hartsville, the acting speaker since Harrell’s indictment in September, is expected to be elected to the position next month during the organizational session.

“I’m very hopeful of a better working relationship with the House. … It can’t be any worse, right?” said Haley, who was a three-term House member from Lexington County when voters elected her governor in 2010. Speaking of Lucas, she added, “I think he has a true passion for wanting to move South Carolina forward.”

Haley and Harrell have feuded since she was in the House.

In 2008, Harrell moved Haley to the education committee from the Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee, which is considered more powerful. It was viewed as a punishment for her vocal push for more on-the-record voting.

The ethics case against Harrell did not go to the House Ethics Committee. Attorney General Alan Wilson directly accepted a complaint against the once-powerful speaker in 2013.

Also on Thursday, Haley said she’s eager work with Lt. Gov.-elect Henry McMaster. The former two-term attorney general campaigned on his ties with Haley, saying his election would create an executive team, four years ahead of schedule. Beginning in 2018, gubernatorial nominees will pick their running mates.

“I’ve never really had a lieutenant governor I could work with before. This is a real opportunity to show what a governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket would look like,” Haley said, adding their teamwork includes McMaster’s ability to “advise us going forward every time we get sued.”

Three lieutenant governors have been sworn in during Haley’s tenure.

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