Like many states in the South, Mississippi's 1890 constitution intentionally gave its legislative branch more power. Barbour, a proven political strategist, figured he could find a way to tip the legislative process in his favor.
"I used to tell people even though we have a constitutionally weak governor that doesn't mean we have to have a governor with a weak constitution," Barbour recently told a Boys State assembly.
The speech came as House and Senate members were locked in a stalemate over a state budget plan for the new fiscal year.
Many legislators would contend Barbour is part of the reason for the impasse.
Budget battles at the Capitol have occurred in the past, but longtime political watcher Marty Wiseman said the current situation is unprecedented.
The disagreements used to be between the House and Senate. Now, Republicans are bucking Democratic leadership in the House and Democrats, who have a slight majority in the Senate, are at odds with GOP leadership there, said Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.
Then there's Barbour, who's been successful in persuading the Senate to do his bidding on many programs and policies. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant presides over the Senate.
"The play book doesn't exist on this at this point," said Wiseman. "When we get locked up to this extent, how do we find our way out of it?"
The sticking points in the budget are a $90 million hospital tax and a $60 million reserve account for Medicaid using stimulus money. Barbour is pushing both proposals.
The House leadership is opposed to that large of a tax on the hospitals to help cover the costs of Medicaid, a government-funded health care program. House leaders also contend that creating a $60 million reserve account cuts into funding for other programs, including education.
Last week, House negotiators thought they were close to a deal, but they said senators rejected the proposals after meeting with Barbour. Since no deal was reached by session's end, Barbour gets to call the lawmakers back for a special session.
Few would argue that Barbour doesn't see the benefit of taking budget negotiations into a special session, where he controls the agenda.
In his political blog, Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, wrote: "I say this in a positive way. If politics is about knowing how to use your resources, no matter how meager, Gov. Haley Barbour is the general, the master and the teacher."
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, puts it another way: "In recent years I have learned that the word 'compromise' no longer belongs in the vocabulary of Gov. Barbour and the Senate negotiators he appears to manipulate."
Barbour gained insider status as political director for the Reagan White House for two years in the 1980s. He was Republican National Committee chairman from 1993-97 and helped engineer the GOP's 1994 takeover of Congress.
But he recently said that he's learned the most about leadership as governor.
"It's very hard for a legislative body, no matter how exceptionally good the members, to actually be able to set a direction and stay on that course for a long period of time," Barbour told Boys State delegates.
"And so I find, particularly dealing with the House, that often it's very hard to get them willing to focus on direction. Some of them just disagree with where I would like to see the state go, and that's fair. That's part of the process. But some of it is we have not had a history in Mississippi of strong governors," he said.