By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Former Mississippi governor and Republican National Committee chairman Haley Barbour on Thursday called GOP tactics resulting in a partial government shutdown “foolish” and “stupid.”
After speaking at the Tupelo Luncheon Civitan Club on the topic of the state’s energy policy, Barbour, an influential politico nationally, turned from policy to the politics of the recent partial federal government shutdown in response to a question from the audience.
Barbour said the aggressive tactic could hurt Republicans and could have an impact leading into mid-term elections in 2014.
“I think the way the Republicans went at the budget was really stupid,” he said. “In my business of politics, you don’t pick a fight you know you’ll lose.”
Barbour, who was national Republican chairman during the last government shutdown in the mid-1990s that led to GOP election losses, is among several high-profile Republicans critical of Sen. Ted Cruz and other party members who pushed for a shutdown as a way to leverage bargaining power against the health care law passed three years ago. Republicans failed in the effort to delay further provisions of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
Among Mississippi’s congressional delegation, Republican U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker voted for the legislation Wednesday to fund the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, as did Republican U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper and Democrat Bennie Thompson. GOP congressmen Alan Nunnelee and Steven Palazzo voted against it.
While not disagreeing with opposition to the ACA, the Yazoo City Republican said tactics used by Cruz and some House members didn’t seem planned or well thought out.
Barbour said a “foolish” element of Republicans’ stance was taking the spotlight away from many problems associated with the health insurance exchanges that opened about two weeks ago, around the same time as government shutdown talks began.
“For six weeks, Obamacare has been trying to be birthed and it’s the worst miscarriage you’ve ever seen,” Barbour said. “We knocked Obama’s bad news off the front page doing something we knew we couldn’t win.”
Barbour’s main purpose for his visit to the Civitan Club was to tout the benefits of Mississippi Power Co.’s controversial Kemper County lignite coal plant as part of a diversified energy policy for the state. Barbour’s Washington lobbying firm has represented Southern Co., parent company of Mississippi Power, along with other energy companies.
He also addressed efforts to bring a labor union presence at the Nissan plant in Canton. He said he believes the chances of Nissan workers voting to bring organized labor to the plant are slim, saying the hoopla came from left-leaning politicians and activists.
“It’s being led by Bennie Thompson, not the auto workers,” he said.
As for state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who formally declared plans to run for the U.S. Senate held by Cochran, Barbour attributed the Tea Party-oriented McDaniel’s decision to run to a reason other than ideology.
“I think it’s much more about the ambition of youth,” Barbour said of McDaniel, 41.
Three decades ago, some people in Mississippi accused Barbour of the same thing when he challenged longtime Sen. John C. Stennis, a Democrat and one of the Senate’s longest serving members. Barbour lost the race by a 2-to-1 margin.
When brought to his attention, Barbour didn’t deny parallels between himself and McDaniel.
“Maybe because there’s one there,” he said.