BOBBY HARRISON: Barbour, agree with him or not, is playing by the rules

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – People should not be upset with Gov. Haley Barbour for exerting his influence in the legislative process.
That is what governors are supposed to do. That is why they run for office. The fact that Barbour probably does it better than any other governor in history is no reason to be mad at him.
People can be mad at him over the positions he takes, his philosophical stands, but not because he uses his influence in the legislative process to get his way.
For years, it has been argued that the Mississippi Constitution sets up a system where the Legislature is strong and the governor is weak. But that certainly has not been the case under Barbour. He has turned that axiom upside down. It will be interesting to see if the dynamics that have existed under Barbour remain in effect for future governors.
In 2002, then-Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove vetoed most of the state budget because he said the Legislature was spending more money than the state would collect in taxes. He vetoed scores of budget bills.
The Democratic Legislature overrode him in merely a blink of an eye with barely a second thought.
Counter that with today where some Republican legislators routinely change their vote to support the governor on a veto override. I have had Republican legislators tell me they would never vote to override Barbour and when a rare one does, it is usually a hand-wringing exercise for that individual.
Of course, it is well documented that Barbour, now in his seventh and next-to-last year in the Governor’s Mansion, has never been overridden. The House garnered the two-thirds majority last year to override his veto of legislation that would prevent the government from taking private property for the use of another private entity. But the Senate could not garner the two-thirds.
Now comes the latest test of political strength for the Republican governor.
Barbour already has said he will veto legislation that restores $79 million of the $458.5 million in budget cuts that he has made this year. He says he will veto the legislation because it spends too much of the state’s $500 million reserve funds and because he wants to spend more on prisons.
By looking at the legislative proposals submitted by some of his chief political allies, Senate Appropriations Chair Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, and Rep. Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, he would spend more on prisons by spending less on education.
Based on past votes, it is likely that enough of the Republicans in the Senate will agree with Barbour to uphold his veto.
At that point, House and Senate budget leaders will try to craft a compromise.
Barbour will have tremendous sway in what the compromise looks like.
People who agree with Barbour will be happy. Those who do not agree with the governor can be mad at him, but be mad at the position he takes, not how he uses the legislative rules to his advantage.
And as much anger should be directed at the legislators who give him that influence. After all, they have the power to take it away from him with a simple vote.
Part of the governor’s knack for exerting that influence is – believe it or not – his ability to compromise. For instance, the dogged determination of the House leadership has forced more to be spent on education than the governor originally supported.
In 2007, an election year, it was evident that the Legislature would override him if he did not change his position and support full funding of the Adequate Education Program, and he did.
He also eventually agreed to a cigarette tax increase after opposing it for years.
Even in the current debate over spending money to restore his budget cuts, he already has agreed to more of a restoration than his original position.
The question is will that be enough or will he finally be overridden.

Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau chief in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at bobby.harrison@djournal.com or (601) 353-3119.