Gov. Nikki Haley's administration was caught off guard by the explosive reaction to its decision to replace Darla Moore on the University of South Carolina’s Board of Trustees with a campaign contributor, according to documents obtained by The State newspaper.
The decision had been made quietly, but when word got out, it sparked a “crush of calls” from reporters, and, ultimately, a student-led protest at the State House by USC students who were angry that the largest benefactor in school history had been sent packing.
“I have a crush of calls within the last 30 minutes regarding whether Darla Moore has been pulled from the USC board,” Haley’s press secretary, Rob Godfrey, wrote to Haley and other staff members on March 15. “Do we want to do anything besides confirm this? Thank her for her service? Let me know.”
Emails and related letters, obtained by The State through a request for public records from the governor’s office, show only a few weeks after Haley took office in mid-January, she was considering replacing Moore with Lexington attorney and campaign contributor Tommy Cofield.
But when the decision was made and it became public, Haley’s staff searched for days for an explanation they could sell.
It was the governor’s prerogative, they argued. Cofield shared the governor’s vision. No one actually was removed from the board. And, finally, Moore got the boot because she couldn’t be bothered to return the governor’s call and set up a meeting to discuss the board position in a timely manner.
“This whole thing has a real amateur feel about it,” said J. David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University. “It seems to be a bumbled thing from the very beginning.”
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