Nothing’s more likely to provoke harsh words from Gov. Haley Barbour than government waste.
“We don’t have this financial crisis in Mississippi because we tax too little. It’s because we spend too much,” Barbour told a hometown crowd in Yazoo City while launching his first bid for governor in 2003.
It’s a line the Republican has repeated often during nearly seven years as Mississippi’s chief executive.
Given his consistent stance against profligate public spending, it’s jolting that Barbour’s office decided to use some of Mississippi’s oil-spill recovery money on a promotional TV show featuring former “Baywatch” star David Hasselhoff and other entertainers who aren’t exactly on Hollywood’s A-list and airing on CW, a network that doesn’t attract massive audiences.
Barbour’s office said “no more than $4 million” would be spent on the show, “The Gulf is Back.” Funding comes from the $75 million BP is giving Mississippi for recovery after one of the company’s oil wells ruptured in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP also gave Mississippi $15 million for tourism promotion, but both the governor’s office and a BP spokeswoman told The Associated Press the TV show is not being funded from that money.
It’s a sensitive topic because Coast business leaders demanded a say in spending the $15 million.
Granted, the $4 million is not being taken from Mississippi taxpayers’ pockets – but it was given to the state for the public purpose of restoring oil damage to waterways, beaches, fisheries and the like. Barbour’s office says the show could help boost the coastal economy, and footage could appear on other travel programs.
“The Gulf is Back” airs at 7 p.m. Friday on CW, a network aimed at the 18- to 34-year-old female demographic with shows such as “Gossip Girl” and “The Vampire Diaries.”
For the week of Aug. 9-15, the Nielsen Co. television ratings showed that CW – a joint venture of CBS Corp. and Warner Bros. Entertainment – placed sixth among six entertainment networks. CBS was first with an average 6.4 million viewers in prime time. CW averaged 960,000.
Barbour has complained repeatedly this summer that coverage on some national networks gave the impression that the entire Gulf Coast was ankle-deep in oil.
He said that wasn’t the case in Mississippi, although environmental officials reported tar balls washed up along Mississippi’s beaches and barrier islands.
It can’t be a coincidence that “The Gulf is Back” airs two days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Mississippi officials are, no doubt, preparing for their state to be an afterthought as TV news crews focus on New Orleans’ recovery.
President Obama is marking the Katrina anniversary in Louisiana’s largest city, but, as Barbour likes to remind folks, the eye of Katrina made landfall in Mississippi and the storm left massive destruction along the state’s coastline and even hundreds of miles inland.
Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said he didn’t know whether the governor and wife Marsha Barbour will appear in “The Gulf is Back.”
Even if the first couple isn’t on camera, the show is being touted as a testimonial about the strength and resilience of the people of the Mississippi Coast.
It’s a story line that burnishes Barbour’s image as he plays coy about whether he’ll run for president in 2012.
Emily Wagster Pettus / The Associated Press