Thursday, March 24, 2011

Darla Moore's brilliant response to Haley's snub

When Gov. Nikki Haley unceremoniously dumped Darla Moore from the USC Board of Trustees and replaced the philanthropic businesswoman with a little-known donor to Haley's gubernatorial campaign, many denounced the governor's actions as a petty move motivated wholly by politics. After all, Moore has given $70 million to USC over the past 15 years, and helped transform USC's business school into a world-renowned institution. Moore's replacement, Thomas Cofield, is a small-time attorney whose appointment one high-profile member of the South Carolina legal community called a "joke."

Moore's rumored support for Democratic gubernatorial candidates only lends credence to the widely-shared opinion that Haley replaced Moore in order to remove an ideological rival from a position of power. Haley said she replaced Moore simply because she wanted a "fresh set of eyes" on the board, but the overtly political move certainly walks and quacks like a duck.

Haley obviously knew her action would be a controversial one, or she wouldn't have kept quiet about Moore's replacement until asked about it a week later. Perhaps she expected Moore to start bad-mouthing the governor to the press, or to simply take her checkbook and leave. No doubt Haley, a Clemson graduate, would have felt few qualms about hamstringing USC's most generous donor. Whatever Haley's expectations, it's clear Moore could not have chosen a classier and savvier response to the governor's snub.

As of this writing, Moore has not spoken publicly to any member of the media about being removed from the board. Her first public appearance after the replacement was at a town hall meeting on Thursday with USC students, at which Moore refused to give her opinion on the removal or her replacement.

There is no doubt Moore chose this course of action for a reason. First, running to the media to lambast Haley would only bring Moore down to the governor's level. By keeping her opinions to herself, Moore automatically shows herself to be the bigger person, garnering even more favor by a public that already sees Moore as wronged by Haley. She also leaves Haley no room to criticize Moore for any disparaging soundbites Moore might have given, and therefore no opportunity to argue that Moore's removal was justified.

Additionally, Moore couldn't have chosen a better setting for her first public appearance. By speaking directly to USC students and faculty, Moore further showed her devotion to the school. If anyone suspected Moore only gave the university money to buy a board seat, those doubts were quickly erased on Thursday when Moore announced a $5 million donation to build an aerospace center named after Challenger astronaut and fellow Lake City native Ronald McNair.

In fact, Moore's donation itself was a masterstroke. By insisting the program be named after McNair, no one can accuse Moore of being in it only for herself -- something Haley is frequently (and somewhat justifiably, given her ubiquitous TV presence and upcoming memoir) accused of. By challenging the state to match her donation, Moore puts Haley in the difficult spot of either acceding to Moore's wishes or snubbing the memory of an American hero.

There's no telling what Moore's next course of action will be, but it will doubtlessly be as measured and graceful as Moore has responded so far. If Haley refuses Moore's challenge to match her donation, the governor leaves herself open to justified criticism from Moore and others. There's also the possibility that Moore will devote some of her extensive fortune toward defeating Haley in the next election. Many have already speculated that Moore herself would make a far better governor than Haley, so who knows -- we may even see a "Draft Darla" campaign leading up to 2014.

One thing is certain: the two women's actions in the past week and a half have shown Darla Moore is so far out of Nikki Haley's league that she owns the league.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article. I'm new to the world of South Carolina politics but all the criticism I hear from locals about Governor Haley seems to primarily boil down to the "Darla Moore controversy". Now after reading your article, I better understand this widespread resentment for the Governor.