- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Gov. Nikki Haley used her State of the State address Wednesday to say goodbye to South Carolinians and a job she calls “the greatest honor of my life.”

Haley thanked residents, who she called both the state’s strength and hers, for changing the way the world perceives the state she loves. Her goal was always to better the state’s image from being the punchline of late-night jokes, and the “people of South Carolina accomplished the highest aspiration I had for our state all on their own.”

They did it, she said, through their response to the 2015 “hate-filled atrocity” of nine people killed in a Charleston church, an unarmed motorist killed by a North Charleston officer, natural disasters and other crisis during her tenure.

“They did it by displaying for all to see the power of faith, of kindness, and of forgiveness. They did it by stepping up to every challenge, through every tragedy, every time,” she said. “And in so doing, the people of South Carolina changed our image in a way no piece of legislation or shift in policy or job announcement could have ever accomplished.”

She did cite those job numbers - touting 85,613 jobs announced during her tenure across each of the state’s 46 counties, helping bring the unemployment rate from 11.1 percent in January 2011, her first month of office, to 4.4 percent.

But she thanked “Team South Carolina” for making that happen, saying local leaders stopped thinking regionally and competing against each other to present a united front to lure companies to the state and expand existing ones.

“Team South Carolina is a very real thing. And it is no wonder they now call us, which I love, the ‘beast of the Southeast,’” she said in her 27-minute speech.

The shorter-than-normal speech was free of rancor and recommendations.

An early standing ovation came when she congratulated Clemson University, her alma mater, for winning the national football championship Monday, saying it took her pride in the state “to a whole new level.”

Gov. Haley has been a great cheerleader for the state,” said Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield. “We’ve got a great reputation around the country now. I think a lot of that is attributable to Nikki Haley.”

Critics noted she did not address the Legislature’s top priorities of shoring up the state pension system and fixing South Carolina’s roads. Legislators have said Haley’s yearslong pledge to veto a gas tax increase has stymied efforts to find a solution.

“Primarily the governor just said ‘bye,’” said Democratic Sen. Margie Bright Matthews. “I was looking for a little bit more by way of, where do we go from here?”

The confirmation process for Haley, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for U.N. ambassador, starts next week. She noted her 15-year-old son, Nalin, wasn’t attending because he’s already in New York “getting used to his new school.”

The only advice Haley offered her would-be successor, Lt. Gov. Henry McMaster, came from the lyrics of her favorite rocker Joan Jett: “Just be yourself and everything will fall in line.”

Legislators say they’re eager for McMaster, a staple of South Carolina Republican politics for decades, to take the helm, expecting him to take a congenial approach to working with legislators. Haley, who’s not hesitated to publicly bash anyone she disagrees with, said it’s been amusing to read the comparisons.

“Here are two things I know for certain we have always shared: A love of South Carolina and a love of music,” she told a beaming McMaster, who was sitting next to her. “Your love of South Carolina gives me great comfort, as I know you cherish our state and its people, and I know you’ll take care of them.”

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