Barbour leaves office at top of game
by Bobby Harrison | NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
10 days ago | 1787 views | 9 9 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print

President Bush, center, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, left, visit a home being rebuilt in Long Beach in March 2007, which was affected by Hurricane Katrina. The disaster was a significant event in Barbour’s tenure. (AP PHOTO | FILE)
JACKSON - In May 2005, after a bruising battle to try to remove about 60,000 working poor from the Medicaid rolls, Gov. Haley Barbour's approval rating was at 37 percent, according to a Survey USA poll.

But in August that year came Hurricane Katrina's devastation and the ever-lasting image of Barbour's daily news conferences where he was both solemn and compassionate while proving to have an intimate knowledge of every aspect of the disaster and pending recovery effort.

Time and again, Barbour captured not just the imagination of Mississippians. To a larger extent, he captivated Americans as he spoke of "hitching up our britches" in recovering from what he repeatedly and accurately called the worst natural disaster in the nation's history.

Barbour came out of Katrina's devastation with soaring approval ratings and has never looked back. He cruised to re-election in 2007 with 58 percent of the vote.

As the tenure of the 64-year-old Republican comes to an end at noon Tuesday, he remains popular. According to a November poll by Public Policy Polling, the Yazoo City native had a 60 percent favorability rating, the highest of the 37 governors polled by the firm.

According to a March poll by the same company, Barbour's favorability rating was at 52 percent, though he had the highest approval rating among white voters of any governor in the nation. The same poll, though, showed Mississippians favoring former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee over their own governor in a preference for president. Both Huckabee and Barbour opted out of a run for president soon after that poll was taken.

The polls, though, tell only a small portion of the story. No doubt, Barbour will go down in Mississippi politics as a transformative figure, whether it was his success in dealing with the Legislature, the multiple natural disasters he faced, his guidance of the state Republican Party to unprecedented heights or his political fundraising acumen, which enabled him to surpass past efforts by more than threefold.

"He was a tremendously effective executive in an office that was statutorily designed to be weak," said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University's Stennis Institute of Government. "By the sheer force of his personality, he demonstrated he could get things done.

"Of course, there was his response to events, such as Katrina, that will be a big part of his legacy."

Barbour says his career in elective office is finished. Despite being considered a serious contender - among the top-tier candidates - and despite having staff in place, Barbour announced in April that he would not be a a contender for president.

He plans to return to BGR, the Washington, D.C., lobbying firm that he helped form and make one of the most powerful in the nation. And he will make himself available on what is expected to be a lucrative speaking circuit.

The governor said recently he plans to maintain an office in both Jackson and Washington, where he first gained a national reputation as the political director in the Ronald Reagan White House and later as chair of the Republican National Committee.

Somewhat surprisingly, Barbour said recently, that if not for the responsibility he felt to continue to work on the Katrina recovery, he might not have sought a second term. He said he accomplished most of his goals during the first term.

During the first term, Barbour oversaw changes praised by national business groups to the civil justice system to provide businesses more protections from lawsuits. He also pushed through legislation that streamlined the state's then-fractious workforce training efforts while increasing funding.

He never had a veto overridden in eight years. There were instances where proposals would pass the Legislature with near unanimous approval, but after a Barbour veto, Republicans - particularly in the Senate, where he exerted tremendous influence for his entire tenure - would rally behind the governor and uphold the veto.

In his second term, it appeared that a substantial number of Republicans would finally abandon the governor on an issue when he vetoed legislation that would prohibit the government from taking private property for the use of another private entity. But Barbour garnered enough support from Democrats, combined with the Republican support he maintained, to uphold the veto.

Wiseman said that was another Barbour strength - to maintain civil relationships, realizing his opponent on one issue might be his ally on the next.

Barbour knew when to fight and when to compromise. In 2007, when it became apparent that a vast majority of legislators supported full funding for education, despite his budget that appropriated a smaller amount to local school districts, he acquiesced. He blocked a hike in the state's cigarette tax for years before finally yielding as the pressure continued to grow to increase the levy, which was the third lowest in the nation.

Through the years, his biggest fights with legislative Democrats centered around the budget and specifically education funding. Barbour routinely contended the state could not afford the amount of education funding supported by the Democrats. Each year - with the exception of full funding in 2007 - education received less funding than the Democrats proposed, but more than Barbour recommended.

"Purity in politics and government is a loser," Barbour said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, called Barbour's tenure "rough and rumble, but I have to give him pretty high marks, No. 1 because he took an office that was historically weak and made something of it and No. 2 because of his bull-headed tenaciousness. As far as utilizing the position, he was probably the best to ever occupy that office.

"I didn't say most accomplished, but best at utilizing the office."

His political skills might be unmatched in the state. He raised about $12 million - about $8 million more than had been previously raised for a campaign - in defeating incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in 2003. He leaves office with Republicans in control of the governor's office and both chambers of the Legislature for the first time since the 1800s.

Blake Wilson, president of the Mississippi Economic Council, has called Barbour the best economic development governor the state has ever seen. He has overseen the recruitment of several high-profile industries to the state - most noticeably the Toyota manufacturing plant to Blue Springs in Northeast Mississippi.

Yet, the state's employment rate continues to be higher than the national average, and fewer people are employed in the state now than when he took office.

"He has served us so well..," said Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who will replace Barbour as governor at noon Tuesday. Bryant said Barbour has "guided Mississippi toward a brighter day."

[email protected]
Share This Article |
Comments-icon Post a Comment
January 08, 2012
I'm against drug testing for all benefit folks. It will be expensive on the taxpayers and open up another misuse business. I could support limited checks or random drug testing.

Welfare was never intended to be a prolonged way of life. It was meant (IMO) to be a temporary stop gap from starvation and poor health. It has become a way of life for many. Some I know really come out better by being unemployed and drawing all benefits available than they did by working. Thus the incentive to remain on the rolls.

I see so many with the food card buying better groceries than I get and a heck of alot more groceries than I get. It becomes apparent that some get far too much for free when you hear of folks buying groceries for free and selling at a discount to others for the cash.

The programs have good intentions but are poorly administered and abused. Therein lies the real solution IMO.
January 08, 2012
Actually SouthernAmerican, they'll be kicking themselves off and have no one to blame but themselves. Accountability for one's own actions, you know.

Maybe they'll learn to work, hunt and fish if that's what it takes. Either way, they shouldn't be allowed to receive handouts and then spend money on drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

It's similar to what I've told my own children - who are adults; don't spend your money on junk you don't need or just want and then expect me to hand over my money. On the other hand, if you make an honest effort and still need help, then I'm here. Is there a difference?
January 08, 2012
First, I am liberal.Second, I am not so liberal that I cannot give a republican credit for doing something good when it comes to all people of all races, and this I must do when it comes to Govenor Barbour.

Let us go back in time to Katrina when president bush made the infamous statement, "you doing a heck of a job there Brownie." and soon after all heck broke loose because the federal government was not doing anything in helping folks in alabama, louisanna, mississippi. We all know that to be true.

In that televised meeting with bush, and brownie was govenor barbour. Prior to the statement by bush on brownie's great work, govenor barbour said to bush, and I paraphrase here, "president bush I want to thank you for all the great work and effort you have contributed in helping us." I was taken aback with that statement by barbour knowing nothing bush and fema had done to that point were any help to mississippians.

Soon after, the news media was rabid because the government was not doing anything, and we all saw the pictures and the horror of the days following Katrina's wrath of bush and brownie's none help.

Govenor Barbour distanced himself from bush and brownie(thrown under the bus by bush) soon after and concerned himself with helping the people of Mississippi and not making anymore bogus statements to cover bush and his non performance in mississippi.

It has been a long time in coming, but I give high marks to Govenor Barbor and his team in doing the right thing for the people, especially on the gulf coast. You stood tall Haley Barbour.
January 08, 2012
Well said sir. I just hate that we won't have the opportunity to see how well his way of doing things would work in the White House. We know they would work because so much of what Ronald Reagan espoused was developed by Mr. Barbour. Sadly if the GOP can retake the White House next year, it will be with the same ole same ole like Mitt Romney. Regardless, great job Governor and best to your family.
January 09, 2012
Ask Barber what happened to all the money that was supposed to go directly to the Katrina victims so they could rebuild. Many of those victims never saw the money because Barbour kept it and spent it on other things. It's irregardless of the "worthiness" of what he spent the money on, it was SUPPOSED to be given to those who lost their homes. Last I heard, they're still waiting.....
January 08, 2012
Mississippi has come so far with more of a balance with a Republican governor. Now that we have more conservatives in congress, the state can progress out of the last century and hopefully get drug testing for ALL welfare recipients. This will bring the unemployment numbers down when we don't have to support the druggies.

I'm excited about Mississippi getting past the bad influence that has been there too many years.

January 08, 2012
And what happens when you kick them off welfare? They got to eat and have a place to sleep. Are we going to see more theives in our neghiborhood?

I agree that if I have to take a drug test to make the money that the goverment GIVES to NON WORKING NON TAXPAYING freeloaders, then they need to be tested. With people like HOLLand in office that will never happen.
January 08, 2012
Ask Barbour where he spent the 8.2 Billion that he got from the Federal Gov. for Katrina relief and how much of it went to his sister and niece.man, rojoct
January 12, 2012
In response to virrob2, I was apart of a Company that was going after a Federal Katrina Contract that was being awarded via Barbour' office. We were an established Company that was based in MS. We were one of three bid's that were given the opportunity to give a presentation. We should have been a shoe-in on the contract. The contract was, however, awarded to a newly organized group that was out of state and Barbour's nephew was apart of. You ask, where did the $ go? It appears it went back to Barbour.