'A Conversation with Governor Barbour' at Ole Miss

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Gov. Haley Barbour has learned that few of the seeming crises that grab public attention are worth being upset about.
In a public conversation with journalist Charlie Mitchell at the University of Mississippi’s Overby Center on Wednesday night, Barbour dismissed most barbs and battles of politics and publicity as temporary inconveniences.
“Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s fish wrappers,” he said.
The Washington lobbyist-turned-governor said too much emphasis is put on winning every political battle.
“I think you’ve gotta trust the public enough to tell the truth and let them decide,” he said.
In response to Mitchell’s questions, Barbour addressed a variety of issues. He advocates no limits on political donations but “absolute transparency” about sources. He said Mississippi universities are largely untapped “gold mines” for economic development and that remedial study should be confined to community colleges.
Barbour said his proposal for a Civil Rights Museum “had nothing to do with presidential politics; we’d been working on it for a year and a half” when it became public knowledge.
Hurricane Katrina and its recovery effort will define Barbour’s two terms.
“The fact that I had spent my career in Washington … this was the time that sort of hit my skill set,” he said, noting changes he and the state’s Congressional delegation pushed in a federal aid law not designed to deal with a “megadisaster.”
Barbour said the hurricane from hell could have been even worse. It was only after the head of the National Hurricane Center said that Katrina would be “a Camille-like event” that many started evacuating the Coast, he said.
Barbour said the devastated area “looked like the hand of God wiped away the Coast. It was utter obliteration.”
“The people were tough, and the first responders were magnificent,” he said. “It was strong, resilient, self-reliant people who just did what they had to do.”
When Barbour leaves office in January, he will write a book on Katrina and resume lobbying and consulting.
“I do get the nicest public housing in the state,” he joked, “but you don’t make much money.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com