NRI Nikki Randhawa-Haley eyes South Carolina assembly

Washington, June 10, 2004
Indo-Asian News Service

NRI Nikki Randhawa-Haley, who came within a 100 votes of wining the Republican primaries for the South Carolina assembly, is ready for a one-on-one with incumbent Larry Koon in the runoff June 22.

"I am absolutely thrilled with the close call. My opponent is the highest ranked member in the State House and has been there 30 years," Haley told IANS.

Running from the 87th District, Haley, 32, was pitted against Koon, who had earlier indicated he might not run again, making Randhawa clinch her decision to enter politics.

Considered one of Lexington County's most competitive State House races, the three-way split was a result of another novice candidate, David Perry, an insurance agent and former state trooper taking some of the vote in the race to displace the longest serving member of the State House, Koon.

The 87th District stretches from the south shore of Lake Murray through the west side of the town of Lexington and Red Bank and along I-20 to Gilbert.

"It was as close as any race could be," said Haley.

With 100 per cent of the votes counted for the 18 precincts, Koon received 42 percent of the vote (2,354), Haley 40 percent (2,247), and Perry 17 percent (968). Randhawa-Haley is 107 votes behind Koon.

A resident of Lexington, she was born and brought up in the state, despite which she said, she faced negative stereotyping as a South Asian and for the fact that she followed the Sikh religion.

During her campaign, she said she had people questioning "what religion is she? Is she Muslim? Is she part of that group with Osama bin laden?"

"We knew it was such an uphill battle, but I worked so hard," she said.

In an earlier interview with NIT, she said: "Everyone that knows me knows that I like to do things 150 percent. Most of all I want to make a difference. My only option is to win. I don't have any other."

She and her mother Raj, as well as her sister, Simran, run an upscale clothing business named Exotica International. It has grown from a small motel room to a 10,000 sq. ft establishment with a revenue in fiscal 2003 of $1.8 million, her father Ajit Randhawa.

"If I win this, I will be the first Indian to be in the (South Carolina) state assembly. So that people can start looking at County boards, school boards. All that is not happening right now," Randhawa-Haley had said during her campaign.

Born in Bamberg, South Carolina, in 1972, and brought up there before moving to Lexington, Nikki attended Clemson University, majoring in Finance.

She then worked with FCR Corp as assistant business manager before joining her mother's business in 1994.

Her father is a retired professor of biology who chaired the department of natural and computer sciences at Voorhees College.

She is on the board of the Lexington Chamber of Commerce, and president-elect of National Association of Women Business Owners and Chairperson of Lexington Gala raising funds for the local hospital.

"The reason I decided to get into this was that I am involved in the community already, I was just stepping up my responsibilities, just my way to giving back," Randhawa-Haley said.

"Also, we currently don't have any Indian holding office. In the past couple of years, we've known people who needed to know someone in government to jump hurdles. That's another reason I thought, we Indians are very good in everything we do, whatever we do extremely well, but we're still not in government.

"And I really just want to show that we are great at that just as we are in medicine or whatever else we do."

Randhawa-Haley is now going to have to wait another two weeks before she knows whether she can enter the November race for the State House.