04/03/2012 11:10 am ET

Nikki Haley: Hillary Clinton Inspired Me

In an interview with USA Today, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) discussed her background and political origins, citing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a major source of inspiration.

Haley, who was elected governor in 2010, attended a speech that the former first lady gave in 2003 while serving in the U.S. Senate.

"She said, 'There will always be people who say you shouldn't do something, but the only thing you should... think about is why you should do something,'" Haley recalled.

"I walked out of there and I told [a friend], 'I'm not going to let anybody tell me I can't do this anymore. I'm just going to do it," Haley, who has never met Clinton, said. A year later, she ran for and won a place in the state House, unseating a 30-year incumbent.

The USA Today profile also details Haley's upbringing as an Indian-American in South Carolina. Haley's parents, who emigrated from India, moved to the Palmetto State when her father accepted a teaching job in Denmark, S.C.

"Just imagine a small Southern town of 2,500 people and this family moves in and the man wears a turban and the woman wears a sari, and they've never seen anything like that," she said.

Haley, who is the state's first non-white governor, cited instances of discrimination in the small South Carolina town. When she was a young girl, she and her sister were barred from competing in a local beauty pageant because of their Indian heritage.

"They pulled my parents aside and said they had a white queen and they had a black queen and they didn't want to upset either side by putting us in that category," Haley said.

She was so affected by the incident that she refused to let her own daughters enter pageants until recently, fearing that they would face similar prejudice.

However, as the AP reported, Haley has not always been praised for her own civil rights record. In January, a group of black leaders, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, criticized Haley for pushing voter ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans.

Last year, Democrats criticized Haley for identifying herself as "white" on a 2001 voter registration application.

Haley, who endorsed Mitt Romney for the GOP presidential nomination in January, has been frequently floated as a potential running mate for the eventual nominee. However, she has repeatedly said she will not accept a spot on a ticket if offered.

"I'd say, 'Thank you, but no,'" she told ABC News. "I made a promise to the people of this state. And I think that promise matters. And I intend to keep it."