BILL MINOR: Barbour commits only as a latecomer to spill work in state

JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour, who described himself to a reporter as a “fat redneck,” making him unsuitable as a presidential candidate, certainly has been fattening his campaign war chest lately. As some publications have noted, Haley’s getting more serious about a 2012 GOP presidential bid.
Online political newspaper politico.com reported that Barbour on June 24 staged a big fundraiser in two Washington restaurants for one of his three (yes, three) political action committees. It was believed to have raised $60,000 for a PAC he established in Georgia. The trick was that Georgia’s lenient campaign laws allow him to receive big corporate checks not allowed by Mississippi law, or many other states.
The portly, drawling Barbour, who ends eight years of his term-limited governorship in January, 2012, has been traversing the country for political appearances, with his travel and expenses picked up by the Republican Governors Conference which he heads. That’s why his flights don’t show up on the flight reports on use of the state jet.
Politico says the Georgia PAC had raked $78,500 in corporate checks the past six months, while his federal PAC account brought in $425,000 and his Mississippi Leadership PAC as of last reporting year stood at $77,000. Since Barbour took over as president of the Republican Governors Association a year ago, the RGA has raised $28 million to dish out to GOP governor candidates. Since Barbour in his usual take-charge style controls that money, no doubt Republican gubernatorial candidates will be coming to him with hat in hand.
You haven’t heard Barbour utter one harsh word about BP in the nearly three-months since the huge oil company’s Deepwater Horizon’s well blew out, almost certainly due to the company’s greed, corner-cutting and hurry-up to drill the mile-deep well.
After prattling along for six weeks in a dream world as though Mississippi’s beaches were immune to being scourged by the oil spill and blaming the media for driving away tourists by falsely portraying the state’s coastal beaches, Barbour had to make a sudden about-face two weeks ago when oil slipped past the barrier islands and hit a 30 mile stretch of mainland beaches. Barbour’s flip-flop, though noted in national TV shows, went almost entirely unnoticed in state media.
Even as the oil spill invaded Mississippi’s shores, Barbour was trucking off to Washington to raise campaign money at two D.C. hot spots. Lobbyists for health insurance, tobacco, liquor, defense and drug industries were lining up to get a piece of the action, Politico reported. Barbour’s nephew, Henry, who serves as his PAC honcho back in Mississippi, tried to douse concerns raised by a Politico reporter that the governor needed to be on the ground while the oil crisis threatened his state. Henry said Haley would always be handy by telephone as needed.
Perhaps instead of electing a governor as the state did in 2003, when Haley took leave of his thriving lobby business and came down with bulging money bags and got Mississippians to elect him, we could save a lot of state tax money by hiring a robot in Washington to govern the state by remote control.
Barbour has been a GOP political operative ever since 1968 when he worked in Richard Nixon’s campaign, working his way up to chairman of the Republican National Committee in the mid-1990s, then helping to engineer the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. When he opened his lobby shop in 1996, it was like stepping through a swinging door as he took GOP big donors such as big tobacco with him as clients. What the average Mississippian does not realize, Barbour is again a top party boss at the national level. Even if he is not the party’s presidential candidate, he’ll have a big say-so in who is.
Meantime, Mississippi serves as Barbour’s toy box while he plays the game of politics at a much higher level. Back home, our primary concern is whether he can hand-pick his successor in Jackson, just to show his political muscle.

Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him at P.O. Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215-1243, or e-mail at edinman@earthlink.net.

Bill Minor