By The Associated Press
DES MOINES, Iowa – Though he’s faced some criticism on such matters, Gov. Haley Barbour says he carries no political baggage because of his positions on racial issues.
The issue flared again last week, when he declined to denounce an effort by a group pushing for a license plate in honor of confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
“The bureaucracy denied it, the Legislature won’t pass it and if the Legislature passes it, it won’t become law because I won’t sign it,” Barbour said.
He says he was a child during much of the Civil Rights movement and that people should focus on the progress that’s been made throughout the South.
Barbour was meeting GOP activists in Iowa as he tests the waters for seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
When questioned about the racial history of Mississippi, Barbour walked a tightrope by seeking to distance himself from some of the most egregious violence.
“I was a school kid during most of the civil rights movement, as we refer to it today, playing Little League,” said Barbour.
He attended the University of Mississippi and talked of a friendly relationship with a black student.
“It was a lot harder for her to be there than me and I’m much more aware of that now than I was then.”
During the interview, Barbour stressed the progress that’s been made in Mississippi, including a planned reunion of Freedom Riders who battled for civil rights there in 1961.
Barbour’s history could be a particularly sensitive issue should he decide to seek the GOP nomination to run against the nation’s first black president.
Barbour said he won’t make a decision until April because that’s when his state Legislature will adjourn.
“I don’t want to walk away from one job I’ve got to run for the next one,” said Barbour.