Nikki Haley, daughter of Sikh parents, is South Carolina’s first woman governor (Night Lead)

By Arun Kumar, IANS
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

WASHINGTON - Nikki Randhawa Haley, the daughter of Sikh immigrant parents from Amritsar, created history by becoming the first woman to win the governor’s race in South Carolina and the second Indian American to become governor of a US state. Her victory propelled the two million-strong Indian American community further into the national spotlight with the Obama administration describing it as a “very active diaspora” ahead of his maiden visit to India.

Haley, born Nimrata (Nikki) Randhawa who later married Michael, a white American, will be the first woman chief executive of the state and America’s second Indian-American governor after Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, also a Republican, who became the first with his historic election three years ago.

The 38-year-old mother of two, who defeated Democrat Vincent Sheheen with a surprisingly close 51 percent-47 percent vote in the most expensive election in state history Tuesday, has already like Jindal been mentioned as a “long shot” presidential/vice presidential candidate for 2012.

Endorsed by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, former South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, Haley is also part of the populist, conservative/libertarian Tea Party movement.

Haley saw quite a bit of controversy surround her campaign before the primary earlier this year. From a racial slur from a fellow lawmaker to unproven accusations of an affair by a political blogger, Haley still snagged the Republican nomination in a run-off in June with 65 percent votes.

Haley, a strong fiscal conservative, was first elected to represent the 87th District in Lexington County in 2004, when, as a virtual unknown, she beat the longest serving state legislator in a Republican primary.

In 2008, Haley was sent back to the state house with 83 percent of the vote - the highest percentage earned by any lawmaker facing a contested South Carolina election that year.

Born in Bamberg, South Carolina, Nikki’s first job was keeping the books for her family’s clothing store - at the age of 13. She went on to graduate from Clemson University with a BS degree in accounting and following her graduation worked as accounting supervisor for the Charlotte, North Carolina based corporation FCR, I nc. and five of its subsidiaries.

Nikki then went back to the Randhawas family business where she helped oversee its growth into a multimillion dollar operation.

Nikki and her husband Michael, a full time federal technician with the South Carolina National Guard and an officer in the Army National Guard, live in Lexington with their two children, Rena, 12, and Nalin, 8.

The Obama administration Tuesday lauded the “very active (Indian) diaspora” in the country that helped in propelling ties with India and said the community was being kept informed about the goals of what it hopes would be a “very successful” India visit.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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