Barbour: No retirement after governorship ends

HATTIESBURG — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Tuesday that he’ll keep working when he leaves office next January, but he’s still not sure whether he’ll return to the high-profile Washington lobbying firm he helped establish.

“I’ve got half a year left on my term, and we’ve got a number of things we’re going to try to get completed or accomplished in that time,” Barbour told high school students at American Legion Boys State.

“Whether I’ll go back to my old firm, which I left to run for governor, just really remains to be seen,” he said. “But I’m 63 years old, which, believe it or not, is not very old. It may seem like it to y’all, but it’s really not very old. So I’m not planning on retiring.”

The teenagers applauded.

Barbour, a Republican, announced in late April that he won’t run for president in 2012, saying he didn’t have the “fire in the belly” for a two-year campaign and possible eight years in the White House. The announcement came after Barbour had hired some consultants and had made appearances in several states with early presidential primaries or caucuses.

Having unseated Democrat Ronnie Musgrove in 2003, Barbour is limited to two terms. Barbour said Tuesday that he originally intended to serve only one term as governor because he had accomplished most of what he wanted with the Legislature. He said Hurricane Katrina changed his plans after it struck in August 2005, because he knew the recovery would be long and complex.

Barbour said he’ll be involved in the 2012 presidential campaign in some way, but he didn’t comment specifically on any of the Republicans seeking the nomination.

“In my party, I don’t think we know who all’s going to run yet. There may be others that will run,” Barbour said. “There’s some good people in there and there’s some people I served with as governor. I think it’s early and I think it will be a while before the Republican nomination is set.”

Barbour chaired the Republican National Committee in the mid-1990s. As chairman of the Republican Governors Association from June 2009 through November 2010, he helped raise tens of millions of dollars for his party’s candidates.

He said Tuesday that he disagrees with the direction that President Barack Obama has taken the country. Although Barbour didn’t touch on specific examples Tuesday, he has been sharply critical of Obama on federal spending and joined a lawsuit that sought to block the federal health care overhaul that the president pushed into law more than a year ago.

“If the election is about policy, that’s better for the Republicans,” Barbour said of the 2012 race. “If the election’s about anything else, that’s better for the Democrats.”

Barbour, an attorney, helped found the Washington lobbying firm Barbour Griffith & Rogers Inc. in 1991. The firm represented several high-profile clients, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, CBS, Comcast, Delta Air Lines, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft and Qwest Communications. The firm is now called BGR, and one of Barbour’s sons, Reeves, joined it in January.

Before becoming governor, Barbour put his own finances in a blind trust managed by one of his friends, a banker. Barbour receives monthly retirement or severance payments from the lobbying firm.

A state law enacted after Barbour took office requires an elected official with a blind trust to file an annual report with the state Ethics Commission. The most recent reports show that Barbour requested withdrawals totaling $458,850 between August 2008 and November 2009. Records show the blind trust had $3.3 million in assets and $259,950 in liabilities in March 2009, the most recent report of its value.

Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press