No longer party chair, Barbour still helps shape Republican policy

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS

The Associated Press

JACKSON – Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour juggled cell phone calls last week while being driven from one appointment to another in New York.

He was in the city preparing for the Republican National Convention, which for most delegates begins Monday and runs through Thursday.

Barbour's heavy lifting started early as he chaired the “Protecting Our Families” subcommittee for the group writing the GOP national platform. His group was to address abortion, children's issues and same-sex marriage.

“Some of the major concerns of the American people revolve around issues that will be considered by my subcommittee,” Barbour said in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

His panel drew criticism from gay-rights Republicans after adopting language that called for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and opposing legal recognition for same-sex civil unions.

Barbour, 56, is no stranger to high-level party politics.

The Yazoo City native was political director for the Reagan White House in the 1980s, chaired the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997 and, while working as a high-powered Washington lobbyist, was among 10 members of George W. Bush's presidential exploratory committee in 1999.

As party chairman, Barbour led the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. During that week, Barbour rose before dawn and maintained a nonstop, down-to-the-minute schedule that would've made most delegates wither. Planning meetings. Breakfasts. Interviews. Speeches. Receptions. Strategy sessions.

Eight years later, Barbour says he'll be busy during the Republican National Convention but his schedule is more likely to allow some breathing room.

Festivities for Mississippi's 38 delegates and 35 alternates were to start Saturday with a reception at the Sky Club on the 56th floor of the MetLife building in Manhattan. Sponsored by the Southern Company, the reception honors Barbour and is a salute to him and the other state chairmen of President Bush's re-election campaign.

Just as the Mississippi Democrats were invited to a string of parties and receptions during their national convention last month in Boston, the Mississippi Republicans will keep busy social calendars.

The state's senior U.S. senator, Thad Cochran, is hosting the Great American Farm Breakfast on Wednesday, with a salute to agricultural states.

Later that day, Leisha Pickering, wife of 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., is hosting a “Celebration of the South” reception.

Asked what the Mississippi delegates can expect at the convention, Barbour said: “They will see that in the Republican Party, the South is very respected and that the views of Mississippians and other Southerners are in the mainstream of the Republican Party.

“It's very different from what Mississippi Democrats see when they go to their national convention,” he said.

State Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, responded: “I resent that.”

During an interview at the state Capitol, Jordan said he and other Mississippians felt comfortable at their party's gathering in Boston.

Barbour said Mississippians have more in common with Republican ideals “across the board,” including on issues such as opposition to gay marriage.

Jordan pointed out that Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a lesbian daughter, said during a campaign stop last week that people should be free to have the relationships they want.

Jordan added: “I'm against gay marriage. I think marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Barbour said the Republican Party needs to hold true to its ideals.

“If you look back over the last 50 years, about 60 percent of the people in the United States would consider voting for a Republican for president,” Barbour said, citing the elections of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

“When the term 'big tent' is used, to me that means that we organize ourselves in a way all of that 60 percent feels comfortable that they are welcome in our party,” Barbour said. “But you don't water down your beliefs to try to pacify the 40 percent who wouldn't vote for anybody but a Democrat no matter what.”

Cochran predicted Barbour will “be a star” at the Republican National Convention because Barbour unseated a Democratic governor last year and because he's well connected in the party.

“He may be the best known Republican in the U.S. who's not a candidate for president,” Cochran said.

Better known than California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Cochran laughed and didn't answer.