By Joe Rutherford/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Gov. Haley Barbour started a three-speech farewell tour Wednesday, telling a BancorpSouth Conference Center audience Mississippi must rely on “sustaining values” centered on strong families and education to overcome historic problems.
Barbour, whose second four-year term ends in January, cited economic progress and higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs brought to the state during his tenure, but he also said Mississippi must dramatically reduce both births to unwed mothers and dropouts to remain competitive.
The audience, brought together by the Community Development Foundation, included many longtime friends of the governor like Renasant Bank Chairman and CEO Robin McGraw, who introduced him.
Barbour particularly stressed births to single women and households without resident fathers/husbands. A majority of babies born in Mississippi are born to single women in the two major racial groups, whites and blacks.
Barbour said the state’s leadership should seek to reduce out-of-wedlock births by 50 percent during the next five years.
“If we had more intact families led by two parents … I assure you every problem and shortcoming we have as a state will get better – far better,” Barbour said.
He will discuss ways to improve education at 12:30 p.m. today at the Governor’s Workforce Conference in Jackson. He will talk about budget responsibility at 1 p.m. Dec. 15 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi.
He also cited chronic major public health issues: obesity, diabetes, alcohol addiction, smoking and all the diseases related to those liabilities.
“I grew up thinking that anything worth eating was better fried. And usually fried in lard. Mama thought Crisco was a Commie plot. Fat, sugar, salt and alcohol. I thought those were the basic four New Orleans food groups,” he quipped.
Barbour said education is the top economic and quality-of-life issue.
“My concern is the dropout rate,” he said. “The failure is at home. The responsibility rests at home with the parents.”
He used traditional language to describe what Mississippi needs among all residents: “It is the value of ‘work’ … ‘the Protestant work ethic,’ as it was called before political correctness.”
He said only 64 percent of adult Americans were either working or seeking a job last month, and in Mississippi the percentage was even lower at 60 percent.