Governor touts first six months as he and staff spend week in Northeast Mississippi

By Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

TUPELO – Gov. Haley Barbour said Monday he is “totally confident” that the up to 65,000 people being removed from the Medicaid rolls on Sept. 15 will continue to receive adequate health care.

The Republican Barbour is spending the week bringing his office to Northeast Mississippians. He and most of his staff will be in eight Northeast Mississippi counties during the week.

He spent Monday in Lee County. He ended the day with what he described as one of only two campaign-type events during the trip to Northeast Mississippi. A Mississippi Republican Party fund-raiser, at a cost of $125 per person, was held at the Tupelo Furniture Market to boost the Bush-Chaney re-election effort.

Barbour, who delayed removing the people from the Medicaid rolls from July 1 to Sept. 15, said the Division of Medicaid is working to ensure that the people being removed from the benefits have adequate health care coverage.

“I believe totally it is the right thing to do,” he said. “We just have to make sure we do it right.” Barbour convinced the Legislature to remove the people from the rolls to save about $42 million.

Legislature relations much better'

A recurring theme of Barbour's speech before the Tupelo Rotary Club and to the Daily Journal editorial board was that his relationship with the Democrats in the Legislature is much better than portrayed in the media during his first six months in office. He said 12 of the 16 requests he made in his state of the state speech were approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature during the 2004 session.

“I think it is not productive for the public to miss the story,” Barbour said. “The Legislature accomplished a lot and did a lot I asked them to do. They did it because they thought it was right – not because I asked them.”

He cited the changes to the state's work force training apparatus that were put in place during the 2004 session to streamline the adult-learning effort as an example of bipartisanship.

He deflected criticism that he and the Senate favored a funding level for kindergarten-12 grade education that did not provide the local school districts with enough money to meet the state mandates. He said in a tough budget year education, like other entities, had to make sacrifices.

Barbour did announce that he planned to unveil education initiatives during the fall. He said he would work at that time to garner support for those initiatives in advance of the 2005 session.

Structurally out of balance'

As far as the 2005 session, Barbour predicted that the budget might be a more of a challenge then than it was during the 2004 session. The budget, because of a a prolonged slowdown in state tax collections, proved one of the most difficult issues to address during the 2004 session.

“A lot of the savings we made this year were the easy ones,” he said. “We are still $408 million structurally out of balance.”

Barbour capped his day with the Bush-Chaney fund-raiser, where he talked less about policy and more about politics. He said he hopes to move the Capitol out of Jackson once per quarter when the Legislature is not in session. And, because of the strong volunteer organization that he had in Northeast Mississippi during last year's successful campaign, he felt it was appropriate for the area to be the first to host the out-of-Jackson government.

About 200 people attended the event at the Tupelo Furniture Market.

“I came out to mix and mingle with a lot of my supporters and show my appreciation to my supporters,” said Rep. Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn.

“Tonight is not a Haley Barbour event,” the governor told the crowd. “Tonight is an event for the Republican Party to help make sure we re-elect George Bush.”

Barbour, First Lady Marsha Barbour and much of his staff will be in Pontotoc, Union and Tippah counties today.