BILL MINOR: Barbour's tax position might be linked to GOP ambitions

JACKSON – In all the years I have closely watched the Legislature as a journalist, taxing snuff and chewing tobacco were the most unlikely new revenue sources I could imagine.
No legislator with any idea of being re-elected would have dared sponsor a bill taxing snuff-dippers or tobacco chompers.
Lo and behold, Haley Barbour, the anti-tax champ, perhaps in a giddy mood after signing the 50-cent cigarette tax hike, told reporters he wished smokeless tobacco (snuff, chews for instance) were hit with a higher tax. He went on to say that the state could pick up $25 million if smokeless tobacco and a small group of non-premium cigs had added taxes.
Makes one wonder how Barbour’s new snuff tax views comport with those folks at the fork of the creek who originally voted for him because of his drawl as thick as a pot of grits, and state flag in his lapel.
That “just one of us” facade conveniently got people to forget that Barbour had just left 25 years of living the Washington high life, getting rich representing companies such as Big Tobacco whose business thrived on folks (and teenagers) using more of their products.
Reminds me that we haven’t heard anything recently about the old tobacco-spitting contest down in Smith County, which I am not proud to say, I covered once. Politicians used to show up for the spit, though I don’t recall any of them hurling a jaw-full of juicy spittle for distance.
The fact Barbour finally found a tobacco tax increase he liked must be noted, given that he had twice vetoed cig tax bills sent to him by the Legislature when he was in his “no new taxes” mode. The pity is Mississippi is joining the tobacco tax hike parade long after many other states with a higher tobacco taxes rate increased theirs.
Plus, it came only after Congress, moved by President Obama, raised the federal tobacco tax to bolster the children’s health insurance program.
Worse yet, it took a totally unrelated “crisis” in the car tag subsidy fund to give cover for some Barbour GOP loyalists to make the tobacco tax switch.
Meantime Barbour’s name got thrown into cable TV news as one of the hardcore GOPers being herded together to re-brand the Republican Party’s message and pull the party’s image out of the ash-bin.
But after Barbour’s face showed up on cable news as one of the GOP re-branders to meet (with others such as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and House Speaker Newt Gingrich) there was no mention that the Mississippi governor had huddled with the group at a Virginia resort.
Barbour fit into the picture as a GOP re-brander because of his record as chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1994 during a previous party rebuilding era, when the party regained a majority in Congress for the first time in decades.
For some time I’ve had a theory that Barbour was yearning to make a triumphant return as RNC chairman to lead a party comeback after the Obama trouncing. Whether Barbour would make his move back to the Beltway before his term ends in January 2012 was the only question, I theorized.
Bill Minor is a syndicated columnist who has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. His address is Box 1243, Jackson, MS 39215. Send e-mails to Minor through

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