The State newspaper in Columbia has never been called a liberal paper, but it is so much more reality-based that The Post and Courier that it makes me long for my old days in Columbia, as resident and writer for that old rag. Here is what associate editor Cindi Ross Scoppe had to say about GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley in a recent column. She had an early warming to Haley, but it looks like her ardor has cooled.

REP. NIKKI Haley has some of the most appealing and most disturbing characteristics of any candidate running for governor this year.

She is charming, engaging and smart. She is refreshingly passionate and energetic and not about to put up with the games at the State House. She can explain problems in a way to get voters fired up (“It’s just wrong; it’s wrong all day long,” she says of school administrators’ opposition to a bill that would cost them money by jerking the junk food out of schools). That’s no small thing in a state as apathetic as ours….

She explains why we could rely on volunteers to help struggling communities by saying, “Look if we can get a doctor of the day to go to the State House every day, we can get a doctor of the day in these communities.” This ignores the fact that doctors volunteer to cater to legislators’ medical needs for free as part of the S.C. Medical Association’s lobbying program.

It sounds great to say “we’ve got to bring all education spending on line.” When I pointed out that it already is on-line, Ms. Haley said it’s not reported in a way that helps people understand what specific programs cost. That’s a legitimate criticism, but it’s not as sexy as the one she makes on the stump.

Any reasonable person would nod in agreement when she criticizes the Department of Education for requiring gym teachers to videotape students doing workouts. Then you check behind her and find out this was an evaluation of the state’s expanded P.E. program involving a random sample of 14,400 students — or less than 3 percent of those enrolled. That strikes me as overkill, but not the outrage conveyed by one of her favorite anecdotes.

These relatively minor misrepresentations are merely the ones that jumped out at me in a single meeting with our board, and this pattern is disturbingly similar to Mr. Sanford’s signature approach: Take a legitimate problem that’s a bit too complicated or wonky to appeal to the masses, and tart it up to make it look like something it’s not.

Ms. Haley is rigidly ideological. All the Republican candidates support taxpayer-funded “choice” for private schools, but only she would veto a bill expanding public school choice if it didn’t help prop up private schools. All opposed the federal stimulus, but only she opposed accepting the money that we’re on the hook to pay for regardless, because doing so blew the “opportunity” to force the Legislature to make structural reforms. It’s true as she says that adversity often makes us stronger; but do you hasten it in order to gain strength — and require those less fortunate to suffer the consequences for your gain?

Even when she and her opponents agree, her reasons are straight out of the Sanford playbook. They all want to cut various taxes to spur growth; she also criticizes the elimination of the grocery sales tax — the one thing the Legislature has done in decades to make our tax system less regressive — because it “didn’t create the first job….”

When I first met Ms. Haley in 2004, I found her a bit green. But she clearly had a good head on her shoulders and was one of the best new candidates we met that year. As I wrote in our first endorsement of her, she was “so focused on keeping an open mind and being persuaded by facts rather than personality, preconceived notions and party dogma that she’s bound to make smart choices,” and “what she calls a business-like approach strikes us as merely a commonsense, proactive approach that people of any political persuasion should be able to take for granted.”

I wish the Nikki Haley who’s running for governor reminded me more of that person and less of Mark Sanford.