BOBBY HARRISON: 'Candidate’ Barbour, mistake and all, got good press

JACKSON – A couple of weeks ago Gov. Haley Barbour was engaged in a good bit of old-fashioned gnashing of teeth over federal legislation that would provide the Mississippi $98 million to help pay the salaries of school teachers and other education personnel during the current state budget woes.
The Republican governor was upset because he said the state would have to divert an additional $50 million to $75 million to education from other cash-starved state agencies to garner that money.
At the time, he governor said it was a “hijacking.”
“This is Congress far exceeding the authority of the federal government by forcing states to change already-adopted budgets to meet the desires of the far left,” Barbour said in a news release. “To get the additional education money from the federal government … we’ll have to take money from law enforcement, human services, health, mental health, economic development and job creation.”
I didn’t know providing salaries for school teachers was a far-left issue, but anyway late last week Barbour essentially said never mind.
Upon further review, the governor said the state would not be required to put additional money into education to accept the federal funds. He said his office made that determination after receiving clarification from federal officials.
While no one was chomping at the bit to dispute the governor’s original statement that the state would have to come up with an additional $50 million to $75 million to get the nearly $100 million in federal funds, a lot of people did say privately based on their understanding of the legislation they could not understand how Barbour had reached his conclusion so quickly and so definitively.
A summary of the bill obtained from the state school superintendents’ national organization led me to the conclusion that the state would not have to put up any additional money. But no one would publicly say the governor was wrong. They just said they needed more time to understand the legislation.
If so many had doubts about what Barbour said , it is hard to understand how the governor’s office, filled with a lot of bright people, could have made the mistake of declaring unequivocally the state would have to come up with the additional money.
But hey, I make mistakes all the time, so who am I to point fingers. But admittedly, I am not that smart, either.
Readers tell me that all the time.
But that is a story for another day.
Whether the governor’s office made an honest mistake or had a bill summary different than what I had, and one provided his office wrong information, it still worked out pretty well for Haley Barbour – for Haley Barbour the national candidate.
More and more national pundits are coming to the conclusion Barbour is running for president in 2012.
Maybe he is. Maybe he isn’t.
But no doubt, this far away from the election, a politician as smart as Haley Barbour wants to keep his options open.
By blasting the federal legislation as “left wing” and a “hijacking” of state budgets by the Democratic-controlled Congress, Barbour was quoted in several national publications. Heck, I can’t verify it, but he most likely was even quoted on Fox News and CNN.
That puts Barbour in the national spotlight as a leading opponent of President Barack Obama and of the Democrats in Washington.
That is a good position to be in heading into what will be a heated battle in 2012 for the Republican presidential nomination.
Now, those same national media outlets made no mention of the fact a few days later when the governor said never mind, the state could accept the money without making any concessions to “the far left.”
A few Mississippi newspapers noted the change. The schools will get their money. But at the same time, Barbour got some valuable national exposure.
How often does an honest mistake or misunderstanding work out so well?

Contact Daily Journal Capitol Bureau reporter Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau