STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
South Carolina's Nikki Haley is the Republican governor of a conservative state, but her new memoir tells of her trouble with some conservative voters. When first running for the state legislature, she had a hard time hiring a political consultant. They didn't think she'd win as the daughter of Indian immigrants.
You write about it quite a bit, this question of your own background. And this was a struggle that you had within voters of your own party.
GOVERNOR NIKKI HALEY: It doesn't ever go away. You know, we had a white legislator that called me rag head, and we had an African-American legislator that said I was just a conservative with a tan.
INSKEEP: In her first campaign, Haley says opposition campaign posters described her as Buddhist. In her book, "Can't is Not an Option," she writes of the awkwardness of trying to fit in. First as a kid on the playground and later as an adult, she was, quote "trying to prove myself by finding similarities and avoiding differences."
HALEY: I feel like it's up to me to educate people on the fact that I'm Indian. I think it's up to me to educate people on, yes, I converted in my faith. I think it's up to me to educate the fact that while there's differences, I'm a mom and a wife and a daughter and a sister that lives a balanced life everyday. And how I do that is, you know, we talk about that.
INSKEEP: Do you think you could've won political office in South Carolina had you done as your father and dressed differently than other people, just to give one obvious example.
HALEY: Well, you know, I've started every speech by saying I'm the proud daughter of Indian parents that reminded us every day how blessed we were to live in this country. I wanted that to be a clear indication to my opponents, that, you know, don't try and go there, because I'm gong to go there first. I'm going to tell you that I'm Indian. I'm going to tell you that, yes, my father wears a turban, you know.
And at campaign events I talk about the fact that my dad, you know, would come to events and I'd see him standing in the corner, and he wouldn't say anything, but I knew it was because he thought it would hurt me.
One of my proudest moments was when he and my mom were on that platform with all former governors, all constitutional officers, watching me getting sworn in, and they were in front of the entire state and country. And I could not have been more proud, because that's where they deserve to be.
INSKEEP: You also said that you would like people to be educated that you converted to Christianity.
INSKEEP: Which happened when?
HALEY: That happened right as I got married. Michael and I - you know, the thing is, when you're raised Sikh, there was less than 1 percent Indian community. So we actually had church services, like, the third Sunday of every month at someone's house. But what I didn't know was the language. I didn't understand it.
Imagine going to a church service, and you can feel God in the room and you can feel the faith, but you can't understand what they're saying. And so when I started going to church with Michael and when we started talking about things more, I mean, Christianity spoke to me. And that's when I knew that's how we wanted to raise our family. That's what we wanted to do.
And two of my siblings are still Sikh, and two of us are Christian. And my parents are proud because we have a relationship with the Lord, and that's all that counts.
INSKEEP: Wasn't it a little hard for them?
HALEY: I think that if it was, they didn't say it, because they were very quiet. And my mom always said everybody has a path to God, and it's important that you have that. What was hard was during the campaign when people wanted me to say how I was raised was wrong, or when people wanted me to say that my parents were going to hell. And I would not do that. I'm very proud of the way they raised me. I'm proud of the fact that they are faithfully committed to what they believe. And so there was - I was never going to go there on that.
INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that, because there may well be people listening now who have that same point of view, who feel very strongly about their faith. What would you say to someone who says, well, your parents are going to hell, and you ought to understand that?
HALEY: I mean, I will tell you that they are two of the best people I have ever known. I am who I am because of my parents. I'm incredibly proud of how they've raised us. So I think people can believe that if they want. I don't believe that. I believe they're amazing people. And I believe that that is the faith that spoke to them. Christianity is the faith that speaks to me and to Michael and the way we choose to raise our children. And I think that's what God would want.
INSKEEP: As a Mitt Romney supporter, what would you say to voters who would say, you know, I just don't know about that guy being a Mormon.
HALEY: I don't think we should focus on what church that person walks into or what they do when they're in church. I think we need to focus on what they do when they walk out of church. How do they live their life? What do they believe that will affect our lives? Where do they stand on policies? Are they pro-life? Do they believe that marriage is between a man and a woman? How they act and live their life every day should matter.
INSKEEP: Let me ask another question about Mitt Romney. Gallup poll recently showed that among women voters, Romney has gone from being ahead of President Obama to being behind - 51-37, a huge gender gap. Why do you suppose that is?
HALEY: Well, I talk about Mitt and Ann Romney in the book. And I think the golden ticket is Ann Romney. She is an amazingly strong woman. She's overcome cancer. She's overcome MS. She is an amazing mother, wife and strong supporter of her husband. And when they see that, I think that that's going to really make a difference.
INSKEEP: That's your hope for the fall, but what do you think has caused Romney to fall so far behind among women when he was actually ahead a few months ago?
HALEY: You know, I actually believe that the media has done a disservice. The media has made it sound like all women care about is contraception. And that's not true. Women are so much smarter than that.
INSKEEP: I sent out a message on Twitter, as I often do with interviews, and said I'm interviewing Governor Haley, do you have any questions? And there were some questions that came back from women, as you might expect...
INSKEEP: ...who were aware that on ABC, not long ago, you said women don't care about contraception. And they said I'm a woman. I do care about contraception.
HALEY: That's, if you go...
INSKEEP: That's a partial quote. Yes, you said they actually care about jobs. Right.
HALEY: So, if you watch the interview, the whole point is women don't vote on contraception alone. They are smarter than that. They are broader than that. And so what we've had is a group that's decided to take that one comment and run with it. And what I am saying is that women care about a lot of things, the economic issues of this country and the jobs situation and how their children are being educated and the health care situation. And so it's not just going to be on contraception alone.
INSKEEP: Let me ask another question here, which also has to do with the presidential race. There's a Fox News Latino survey, which found Governor Romney in a hypothetical, less and less hypothetical, match up with President Obama, losing the Latino vote 70 to 14. What's happening there?
HALEY: You know, I don't know what's happening there. I can tell you what I think should happen, is when you look at this you have to say OK, if we are not relating to Latino voters what more does he need to do to prove that he deserves to have their vote? He's got to fight for this. It's like anything I ever went through. I didn't go and campaign around the people that I was comfortable with. I went and campaigned around the people that weren't comfortable with me. I had to go earn their support and earn their vote. Governor Romney has to go out there and earn their support and vote, and show them who he is and talk to them about real issues. I know when he does that, then those numbers will change.
INSKEEP: Any number of political analysts has suggested that in order to win in November, Republicans will need to talk differently about illegal and legal immigration. Do you think that's true?
HALEY: I don't think it's true. I think that Republicans need to educate on what that means. And I will tell you, we passed strong illegal immigration reform in the state of South Carolina. Now I am a daughter of immigrants that came here legally. They paid the time. They paid the price. They're offended by those that don't follow the rules. We are a country of laws. When we give up being a country of laws, we give up everything this country was founded on.
INSKEEP: Some of the immigration laws that have been passed on the state level get back to this original question having to do with differences. And, in fact, there are cases in which it actually happened that you have police, or other law enforcement officials, treating people differently just because they look different.
HALEY: Well, let me remind you, my father wears the turban. So if there was anyone that was going to be concerned about an issue like that, it would be me. But first of all, I have faith in our law enforcement. There's always going to be people that say but what if?
INSKEEP: Well, it's not even a what if. I'm thinking about in Alabama, where a foreign businessman was taking into custody, I believe, because he couldn't prove that he was here legally, instantly.
HALEY: I mean you do have to carry identification that shows you're legal. You do have to do that. And, you know, surely he has a driver's license. Surely he has any sort of passport or information that shows that he's a legal immigrant. And in a time where we have a problem with illegal immigrants, we're going have to take action. And I know that some people are saying that's harsh, but there has to be some way that we are protecting the people of our country, and also being very fair, and knowing that we want people of different religions and races here, but we want people that are legal.
INSKEEP: Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina. Her new book is called "Can't Is Not An Option." Thanks so much.
HALEY: Thanks so much. I appreciate you taking time with me.
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