By James Hull and Ed Holliday
Point by James Hull
As a self-described “liberal with a slightly conservative bent,” I have and always will have a modicum of respect for Gov. Haley Barbour’s political savvy. He runs a well-oiled and highly organized machine, he says what he means, stands his ground and – as a journalist, I can attest – he is often accessible and candid in his remarks.
But that is clearly where the affinities end. As governor, I have been sorely disappointed in Barbour’s politics and policies: Persuading thousands of rural and poor Mississippians to support Medicaid cuts, despite it being a policy adverse to their interests; refusing so long to support even a small tobacco tax hike, or even a smaller cut in the grocery tax; undermining the Campaign for a Healthy Mississippi; diverting Katrina housing funds for harbor-building.
Policies like these are, at best insensitive and at worse counter-productive to the health and growth of Mississippi. And now, he’s just being down-right hypocritical in his opposition to a Choctaw Indian Casino near Laurel.
Why hypocritical? Because Barbour has, on several occasions, chastised Attorney General Jim Hood for securing outside legal counsel, and here he does the same thing to try and stop the proposed slots casino. This despite his Republican predecessor, Kirk Fordice, having signed the compact making the casino possible in the first place.
What makes Barbour even more hypocritical is that in order to have his way, he has to undermine his own conservative principles of less government and free enterprise. You see, the only reason Barbour is opposed to the casino is because he fears tax revenues will leave government-regulated casinos for the independent Choctaw establishments. But according to the conservatives’ cornerstone principle of “free market enterprise,” the government shouldn’t be trying to control business, even if that control eventually benefits government.
It bothers me to no end when politicians let politics get in the way of little things like their principles. This is one of those instances. Barbour, a “small government” advocate, is willing to support government encroachment, even if it’s in opposition to his own avowed conservatives “principles.”
Counterpoint by Ed Holliday
Gov. Fordice allowed the Choctaws to build a resort destination. In addition to gaming there are meeting facilities, a water park, hotels, restaurants, golf courses and other facilities. A slots casino near Laurel is a far cry from a resort destination. As for the use of outside counsel, we must remember that most of the criticism is about the multimillion dollar fees that were awarded to campaign contributors of the attorney general.
Conservatives love to see great profit margins as long as pro-competition policies are in place. Great profit margins make better stock prices, pay better salaries and thus bring more income through taxes to the government. Such principles promote the drive for excellence, customer satisfaction and the pursuit of new and creative products. Gaming in Mississippi is, by law, not a free market – not just anyone can open a slots casino wherever they want.
You chastise the governor for policies toward the poor, yet the very people who will be hurt by less taxes coming to the state if the Choctaws open the Laurel slots shack will be those needing state services. The brilliance and breadth of Barbour’s vision is in his acts as governor. Can you imagine how much worse-off our state budget would have been if the reduced grocery tax had been enacted? And surely a world class harbor on our coast that will provide great paying jobs for decades and the economic infrastructure for the entire state is best.
Barbour recently said, “I understand yesterday the attorney general implied that I was starting a war with the Choctaws, that I’m anti-Indian. You know my great-great-great-uncle Greenwood LeFlore IV would have found that kind of funny since he was the chief of the Choctaws 175 years ago.”
Barbour has weathered disasters, natural and man-made, helped bring a world-class automobile manufacturing plant to North Mississippi, and he is right to protect the poor, the schoolchildren and our educational system by keeping the slots out of Laurel. Barbour is not only our governor he has become our devoted and effective Minko’ (Chickasaw for chief). He is a proven leader who has made the tough decisions and has indeed been that patriot that “sees beyond the years.” One day, I hope to say, that Barbour is not just Mississippi’s Minko’, but America’s Minko’ Holiitopa’ (Chickasaw for President of the United States.)
Dr. Ed Holliday is a Tupelo dentist who has written two successful books. Contact him at email@example.com. James Hull is an award-winning consultant and journalist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.