When Nikki Haley was 13, she balanced the books for her parents' small business. Now, as governor-elect, she faces a slightly more daunting task: plugging a billion-dollar hole in the state's budget. But Haley says she looks forward to the challenge. "I love the opportunity that brings" to bring about limited government, she said during a meeting in THE WEEKLY STANDARD's offices this afternoon. "I want to go at every agency start at zero and say, 'What do we have to have?'"

Haley has set up a budget task force to report to her in January, but she's already placed a few items on the chopping block. They range from the symbolic--"We will have a bright and very hard-working staff, but we’ll all be answering our own phones; we won’t have a state house photographer, we’ll use students from the university"--to the substantive: "I want to privatize the entire bus system. Half of the Department of Education is mechanics. I want to get rid of that. I want to go into every part of government and say, 'What can the private sector be doing and what does the government not need to be doing?'"

Haley's to-do list also includes a number of business reforms--“workers comp reform, tort reform, making sure we eliminate the corporate income tax”--as well as good government reforms, such as term limits, spending caps, reporting all spending online, and making voting on-the-record permanent law--a cause she championed in the state legislature.

One of GOP's newest and youngest stars, the 38-year-old Haley singled out three other Republicans as model governors. "Chris Christie—what a rockstar," said Haley, who praised Christie's decision to say no to a 2012 presidential bid and focus on his current job. "Look at Bobby Jindal and what he’s done with transparency in Louisiana,” Haley said. "Look at Texas," she added. "They’ve got neurosurgeons and OB-GYNs flocking to their state with their tort reform."

Looking ahead to 2012, Haley said she will "absolutely" endorse a candidate before South Carolina's important early presidential primary. Though she says she will endorse the Republican who can "best lead our country," potential contenders Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin could benefit from their primary endorsements of Haley. "I have to say, regardless of where you stand on Governor Palin, she has taught people the power of her voice," said Haley. "I was absolutely grateful to her. I was grateful to Mitt Romney, who also came in prior to her and took a chance."

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