He was a Washington powerhouse before he returned to Mississippi to serve two historically significant terms as governor, and he brought Washington here with him. He brought all the contacts he had developed in his years as a White House aide, Republican national chairman, lobbyist and political strategist, which has benefited the state. He also brought Washington-style partisan politics, which changed the dynamics in state government and ultimately its control.
Barbour’s political legacy in Mississippi is in systematically completing the state’s transition to solid Republican dominance. It was happening, but he accelerated the process.
In the past eight years, while his base was in Mississippi, he never left the D.C. orbit. In the latter half of his second term he resumed an even greater role in reshaping the national GOP message. He was a major architect of Republican successes in the 2010 elections.
For reasons still not fully known, he backed off a presidential run just when it appeared he might have a fighting chance for the nomination – even at a time when establishment Republican figures like himself were under suspicion in the hinterlands.
So back to Washington he goes, returning to his old lobbying firm to make some money and to the road to make some more money making speeches. That’s what Marsha wants him to do, he says.
It’s an unprecedented historical situation for Mississippi. We’ve had, in effect, a governor on leave from Washington for the last eight years. That’s not to discount his strong connection to Mississippi and his clear knowledge and astute understanding of the state. But Haley Barbour is a creature of Washington, and it’s fitting that he will again take up residence there.
I first met him in the 1970s when he was an up-and-coming Mississippi political operative and strategist and I was a political reporter, and his sharp mind and easy-going charm and personableness of those years never waned. Anyone who knew him back then wasn’t surprised by his rapid ascendancy in Republican circles.
The only questionable strategic political move in Barbour’s career was his challenge as a young man of the legendary and venerated Sen. John Stennis in 1982. But even that unsuccessful race, which until he ran for governor 21 years later was the only time he’d sought elective office, bolstered Barbour’s partisan credentials since no other Republican was willing to take on the Democratic legend.
Haley Barbour has always been who he is – a consummate political mind who enjoys the challenges of politics, even the fights, but who can hold on to friends of varying political persuasions. As his tour of duty in his original home ends, a new chapter in his adopted home begins. There’s no doubt that Washington will feel his presence.
LLOYD GRAY is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or [email protected]