GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley calls for ‘school choice’ programs nationwide

By: - February 21, 2023 4:00 am

Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley held her first Iowa event as a presidential candidate at Royal Flooring in Urbandale on Feb. 20, 2023. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley, speaking Monday in Iowa, applauded implementation of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ private school scholarship program and called for school choice nationwide.

“I have said for a long time and I mean it: You have the best governor in the country,” Haley said. “She has proven it time and time again, whether it has been with taxes, whether it has been with reforms, and yes, she just did it in the thing that matters the most when it comes to education.”

Haley made her first appearance Monday night on the Iowa caucus trail as an official presidential candidate. The former governor of South Carolina and former United Nations ambassador spoke at Royal Flooring in Urbandale, where she addressed a crowd of more than 300 seated among flooring samples and demo kitchen counters.

Fixing the nation’s educational system was one of the biggest priorities Haley outlined in her address. American schools were already suffering before the pandemic, she said, and sending students home to learn remotely due to COVID-19 caused even more problems. The audience cheered when she spoke about liberal backlash to legislation in states like Florida banning “critical race theory” or curriculum on gender identity before third grade.

But Reynolds, Haley said, made the right decisions about education. She praised the governor’s Educational Savings Account program, which Reynolds signed in January, as well as her move to reopen schools during the pandemic.

“We would not have problems in education if we put education back where it needs to be, in the hands of the parents,” Haley said. “We have to have school choice all over this country. And we need to make sure that we never close schools ever again.”

Reynolds made opening remarks for Haley’s event, saying she was happy to see the fellow female Republican governor again on the campaign trail. She has not endorsed Haley or any Republicans in the field.

“She has a servant’s heart, I can tell you without hesitation,” Reynolds said. “And I’ll tell you, one mistake  that most people make when challenging this lady right here is underestimating her,” Reynolds said. “… And we need to keep our focus on this president.”

Haley criticized President Joe Biden for his decision to pull all troops out of Afghanistan in 2021. She also said officials in Washington, D.C., need to do more to address rising inflation, calling for the return of manufacturing jobs and to “open up the energy sector” in the U.S. by exporting natural resources.

Haley is one of the first candidates to come to Iowa as an official 2024 presidential contender this year. Former Vice President Mike Pence and former Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake also visited Iowa in February, but have not officially joined the race.

Another declared candidate is someone Haley worked for: former President Donald Trump. While some other Republicans have criticized and separated themselves from Trump since his loss to Biden in 2020, Haley did not criticize Trump or her time working in his administration as an ambassador.

When an audience member asked her why they should support her instead of backing Trump for another term, she said it was time for a change.

“President Trump is my friend,” Haley said. “I think he was the right president at the right time. … But we, as dire a situation as this is, as much as all the media and everybody wants to talk about the past, we need to leave the status quo in the past.”

Brad Whitmore, a veteran from Des Moines, said he agreed with Haley: It’s time to move on from Trump. He said he voted for the former president twice, but that how he handled losing the 2020 election means it’s time to find another candidate. But Whitmore said Haley may have bigger challenges in the field than Trump.

“I know my wife thinks that she’s going to have a rough go against (Florida Gov. Ron) DeSantis, but he hasn’t declared yet,” Whitmore said. “So I don’t know. If I was him, I would think twice if I was put up against her.”

This story was originally published by the Iowa Capital Dispatch. It is republished here with permission.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.