Barbour: The lame duck who isn’t

Generally, at this point in the political process chief executives begin to lose clout and influence. Their adversaries know they are prohibited from running for another term, and their allies begin to position themselves with a new leader.
It will be six years this week since Barbour, a Yazoo City native, upended incumbent Democrat Ronnie Musgrove to win the Governor’s Mansion, and his time as the state’s CEO is winding down.
But no one utters the words “lame duck” when referring to Haley Barbour.
“I’m confident Governor Barbour will continue to focus on fiscal responsibility within state government as well as successfully recruiting more good-paying jobs to our state to give us a strong rebound to this national economic downturn,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who many believe is vying to replace Barbour as governor.
Barbour’s clout was as strong as ever back in June when he and legislators raced to finally pass a budget before the new fiscal year began on July 1.
On a Sunday night early that month, House and Senate negotiators celebrated after finally reaching an agreement on the issue that was stalling negotiations – Medicaid.
But before long, Barbour made it clear he opposed the agreement. The Senate leadership, a group that has been heavily influenced by Barbour, fell in line with the governor, and it was back to the negotiating table.

Unmatched influence
Even with two years left on Barbour’s second term, observers already note his place in Mississippi’s political history.
“I don’t know if there will be another governor able to exert the control over the Senate that Haley has,” said political scientist Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.
“Regardless of how one feels about his politics, he took the office of governor, considered a weak office constitutionally compared to the Legislature, and demonstrated how by force of personality to make a strong office of governor.”
At one point during the past legislative session, it appeared that Barbour finally would have his first veto overridden.
The House overrode his veto of a bill preventing the taking of private property for use by another private entity, and it looked as though the same would happen in the Senate, where many of his Republican colleagues were the chief sponsors of the proposal.
But Barbour met with and persuaded a group of Democratic senators – many his main political opponents – to sustain his veto
The override failed.
“There’s no doubt that Governor Barbour has been very successful because of his ability to always think ahead, as well as his natural, conversational way to communicate a clear and concise message whether it is one-on-one , to small groups or large audiences,” said Bryant, who for the rare occasion was on the opposite side of Barbour on the property rights legislation.
While Barbour has had considerable legislative success, things have not always been rosy for him. Earlier on, some decisions regarding cuts in Medicaid were controversial and unpopular.

His Katrina legacy
Many believed his strength was bolstered by the generally high marks he received in his response to Hurricane Katrina that slammed south Mississippi in August 2005 – the second year of his term.
“His legacy will certainly be, a large part of it, his performance during Katrina and the aftermath,” Wiseman said. “I think his entire time as governor would have been a lot different if not for what he was able to do there.
“Remember, when Katrina hit he was attempting to get out of the briar patch of trying to cut 65,000 people from Medicaid and schoolteachers were getting mad at him. He performed with a great deal of decisiveness based on that natural disaster. That gave him the benefit of the doubt on a lot of other things. Plus, a great deal of Katrina money helped the state.”
Still, the House, led by Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, has at times held the governor in check. For instance, through the years the House has forced the governor to spend more on education than he originally proposed.
“I think his legacy will be how hard he worked to recruit additional business and industry,” said McCoy. “Needless to say, Katrina will be part of his legacy. He receives high marks for that.
“We could all find some cracks in the recovery, but I don’t think you could criticize his effort.”
McCoy has been at odds with Barbour in the past, saying that he was trying to be a king instead of governor. On this particular day, he refused to criticize Barbour, but others weren’t as reserved in their comments.
Because of his influence over the Senate, “He has pretty much undermined the role of the Legislature,” said Rep. Kelvin Buck, D-Holly Springs. “He has been fairly difficult to work with….It has really been difficult finding common ground.”

Playing on the big stage
Many have accused the 62-year-old Barbour of bringing partisan politics to the state, and his immense fundraising ability and his campaigning skills have changed the Mississippi political landscape.
The debate about whether the change is good or bad will linger for years.
But Sen. Terry Brown, R-Columbus, said, “His legacy will be as the best economic development governor we have ever had. That is because of all his contacts in Washington.”
Barbour, a former high-powered Washington lobbyist, former chair of the Republican National Committee and former political director to President Ronald Reagan, is viewed as not only a power in Mississippi, but in national politics.
His name has been in the mix as a possible presidential candidate in 2012. He has been coy on the matter, saying Republicans should focus on winning elections this year and in 2010 before even thinking about the presidential campaign.
“I could see him being the king maker a whole lot more than the king,” said Wiseman, referring to his ability to influence key Republicans on the national level.
During his final two years, it appears that much of Barbour’s focus will be on dealing with historically bad budget problems caused by the national recession.
He still is working on economic development as witnessed by a recent trip to Asia and efforts to land a German manufacturer in the Delta.
“Haley has made state government work,” said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. “However, his legacy may well be his leadership through the state’s fiscal crisis, and his abilities to make tough decisions with a long-range view.”

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

In Mississippi, Barbour rules the Republican roost
JACKSON – As Gov. Haley Barbour enters his final two years in office, he is still considered in Republican circles either the class favorite or the tough kid who strikes fear in everyone else.
Perhaps he is both.
“It amazes me how not only Republicans, but a goodly number of rural, conservative Democrats want the world to know they are with him,” said Marty Wiseman, political scientist and director of the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government.
No polling has been made public recently gauging the popularity of the 62-year-old Yazoo City native.
But based on his overwhelming re-election in November 2007 – he received nearly 58 percent of the vote – and an abundance of anecdotal evidence, he continues to have wide support among the state’s populace.
And with at least high-profile Mississippi Republicans, the respect and adulation he engenders are almost mystical.
“I think Governor Barbour’s influence on Mississippi politics will be long-lasting and historic because he’s taken on huge challenges and made a difference for our state,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant.
Republican Treasurer Tate Reeves said, “Future leaders will be wise to lean on Governor Barbour.”
Gulf Coast businessman Dave Dennis, who’s indicated he’ll run for governor in 2011, is another Republican who regularly lauds Barbour’s tenure and influence.
Seldom does a Republican official buck the governor, and no GOP candidate in Mississippi wants to get on Barbour’s bad side.
Barbour and Bryant have clashed occasionally on policy issues, but the first-term lieutenant governor, who is eying a run for governor in 2011, is careful to avoid public spats with Barbour, who constitutionally is prevented from seeking a third term.
Many believe that while Barbour will not be on the ballot in 2011, he will be involved in the elections.
That should not be surprising. He has been involved in politics most of his life, going back to 1968 and his leadership role in Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign in Mississippi.
“If Haley can look back and see crafting a Republican-majority Legislature, or at least cutting the Democratic majority by half in the House, having a slight advantage in the Senate and then having all eight statewide office holders as Republican, I think he will see his legacy as a success on the political side,” Wiseman said.
Attempts to get comments from Barbour were unsuccessful.
Wiseman said he believes Barbour would like his final achievement – as far as party politics goes – to be exerting influence on the legislative redistricting in 2011 to ensure more Republicans are elected to the House and Senate.
Technically, the governor has no say in the process, which is controlled solely by the Legislature. But Barbour has demonstrated unprecedented success during his tenure in being able to exert influence over lawmakers – especially in the Senate – and Wiseman expects the redistricting process to be no different.
“I can’t fathom him sitting all that out,” Wiseman said.
And it would be hard to imagine Barbour sitting out the 2011 elections, though most believe he will not get involved publicly in the Republican primary to support one candidate over another.
Many, though, believe that behind the scenes Barbour supported former state Sen. Charlie Ross of Brandon, who was defeated by Bryant in the 2007 Republican primary for lieutenant governor. If that is the case, it provides a glimpse of the strength of Bryant, in his on right, in Republican Party circles.
Regardless, Barbour was instrumental in getting Ross and Bryant together after a contentious primary for a news conference to display Republican unity.
Don’t be surprised if he plays a similar role in 2011 even as he leaves office.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal