COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, the 44-year-old daughter of Indian immigrants, would bring limited international experience to one of the U.S. government’s most important international assignments: U.N. ambassador.
Haley is the first woman and first minority chosen by President-elect Donald Trump for his Cabinet. The Senate must confirm the nomination, which Trump announced in a statement Wednesday.
The second-term governor was a Trump critic during the White House campaign, endorsing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio ahead of South Carolina’s first-in-the-South primary. Trump, she said, was “everything a governor doesn’t want in a president.” After Rubio dropped out, she backed Ted Cruz. Once Trump became the nominee, she said she would vote for him over Democrat Hillary Clinton, though the choice turned her stomach.
Last week, addressing conservative lawyers in Washington, Haley acknowledged she was not Trump’s biggest cheerleader, but was “absolutely thrilled” by his election because of the opportunities it offered Republicans.
Haley, the second U.S. governor of Indian heritage, is the first South Carolina governor who is not a white man.
She has had little exposure on the world stage, and almost all of that has been in pursuit of luring jobs to South Carolina.
Michelin, Bridgestone, Continental, Trelleborg and Giti Tire all have announced new or expanded facilities in recent years, bolstering South Carolina’s reputation as the nation’s tire capital.
Her trips abroad to lure jobs include a 2015 secretive trip to Sweden, which was followed weeks later by an announcement that Volvo would build its first U.S. auto plant in South Carolina in exchange for more than $200 million in state incentives.
In 2014, Haley took an economic development trip to India, her first visit to her parents’ native country since she was 2 years old. Her parents emigrated from India in the early 1960s.
Haley was born Nimrata Nikki Randhawa in rural Bamberg, South Carolina.
She was raised a Sikh but says she converted to Christianity before marrying her husband, Michael, in 1996. They have two children.
Haley has recalled that as a youngster, she and her sister were disqualified from the segregated Little Miss Bamberg Pageant because organizers couldn’t figure out whether the girls should compete in the white or black contest.
Decades later, Haley drew wide praise for her leadership after the June 2015 slaying of nine black parishioners of historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, as she conveyed the state’s grief and successfully led calls to bring down a Confederate flag that had flown on Statehouse grounds for 54 years.
Dylan Roof, the white man charged with the killings, could be seen in photos brandishing that flag.
She has said the shootings were motived by “pure hate” and will “forever change the way I live my life.”
Haley graduated from Clemson University in 1994 with an accounting degree. But she says her business experience started at age 13, when she became the bookkeeper of her family’s clothing store — a job she returned to after college.
In 2010, she was a three-term state House member, but little known across the state. Still, Haley won the GOP primary for governor that year against a South Carolina congressman, attorney general and lieutenant governor.
She prevailed in the general election and then was easily re-elected four years later. Haley confronted religious slurs over her Sikh roots during that first campaign.