OPINION: Barbour baggage prevents serious presidential consideration

By Bill Minor

JACKSON – Could the governor of the poorest state in the nation with a drawl thicker than sorghum molasses – who strangely honed his political creds as a manipulator in D.C. politics – be seriously considered by the GOP for president in 2012, with any chance of election?
Newsweek magazine, back-handedly in its January 11 issue says it might happen and the man is Haley Barbour of Mississippi, whose waistline makes him look more likely as a candidate for TV’s “Biggest Loser” competition than a serious candidate for the most powerful job in the free world.
The lengthy Newsweek story admits the idea of Barbour carrying the GOP presidential banner in 2012 as the Republican’s guy to revive the battered party is outlandish. But it gives several credible reasons: First, the party has a thin stable of viable candidates and second, the Barbour luck has once again come into play: as chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association he has a chance to again become the GOP’s Mr. Fix-it as when, in 1994 as Republican National Chairman, he was key enabler in the party’s revolutionary sweep of the U.S. House.
Barbour, just turned 63, is term-limited as Mississippi governor. He had come down in 2003 from D.C. with bags of campaign money after a 25-year career in the Beltway and ironically hawked his Washington connections as an asset to unseat moderate but colorless Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.
From patrician Mississippi Delta lawyer origins Barbour, after making the state Republican Party a respectable political force for the first time since the Civil War, went to the nation’s capital and built a career stretching from liaison for the Reagan White House to the chairmanship of the national party. From the RNC he made the short leap to form a gold-plated lobbying firm with ready-made big Republican corporate donors as clients. (Ironically, his nephew Henry Barbour, who as his top aide at the RNC lured $250,000 corporate donors, is nearby in Jackson as a corporate lobbyist, plus scooping up some of the spillover of federal largesse the state got for Katrina recovery.)
The Newsweek piece picks up on a popular notion that Barbour’s post-Katrina management of recovery money was praiseworthy, and outstripped the stagnated recovery in neighboring Louisiana. That was the picture in only the first year when Louisiana got off to a slow start. Since then, Louisiana has zoomed past Mississippi, particularly in rebuilding gulf coast housing. In hardest hit towns on the western end of the Mississippi coast, neighborhoods just off the beach where houses stood are still a disaster area, blocks on end.
If he ran for president, Barbour would have a poor record to show of caring for vital needs of his state’s teeming thousands of poor people. By trying to run Medicaid for 600,000 on the cheap three years ago, 50,000 were cut off the rolls when he ordered a face-to-face annual re-certification. Time magazine, in a nationwide roundup of states’ Medicaid eligibility requirements, showed Mississippi had the toughest, covering parents up to only 44 percent of poverty. Obama’s health care reform would require coverage up to 133 percent poverty.
Imagine a presidential race pitting an arguable neo-Confederate against the first black man to sit in the White House! No matter how you slice it, the Confederacy was aimed at not only keeping a black person from holding elective office, but to keep blacks from having any voice in their government. Certainly Mississippi is a prime example of how the ex-Rebels succeeded for 70 years after the Civil War to keep blacks from voting.
Frankly, I don’t think a match-up of Barbour versus Obama will happen. The molasses drawl alone won’t sell nationally these days.

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.