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Advice to Haley Barbour: tip-toe backwards

Musings

It’s not fair to lump all Mississippians together. We’re a hodge-podge of varying lifestyles and opinions.

I’m told there are at least four distinct areas in this one state. There’s the Coast, where I grew up, which gets thrown in with South Mississippi. Then there’s Central Mississippi, which includes the Jackson metropolitan area. Head up Highway 61, and you move into another world altogether in the Delta. Go up the Natchez Trace or I-55 to the Hill Country, and you’ll experience yet a different Mississippi.

While we each have our own flavor, we have a few traits in common. We don’t like change, and we don’t like to be told what to do.

Witness the Civil Rights Movement or the more recent call for a change in the state flag. We’re stubborn, and we like it that way. Tell a bunch of Mississippians that we can’t (by order of the government) jump off the cliff into the river, and we’ll all proudly take a swim. We may spout “yes ma’ams” and “no ma’ams” all day long, but don’t expect us to be compliant when we haven’t even been consulted.

And don’t buck our traditions. We may not actually understand why we do what we do, but, by golly, granddaddy did it, so we will, too. History and tradition are paramount within our borders, which is why change comes so slowly.

Too long in Washington?

I think that Gov. Haley Barbour forgot these basic characteristics of his constituents. Maybe, he’d been in Washington a little too long. Heaven knows we don’t cotton to those folks in the Capitol. They’re not real Southerners.
Gov. Barbour came into office with an electoral tailwind. He wanted the winds of change to blow through the halls of government as he set about dictating his orders. Yeah, he forgot he was in Mississippi.

No sooner did he start pushing his agenda than the good folks of the Magnolia State sulled up and dug in their heels…
Cut our education budget without so much as a howdy do? I don’t think so.

Barrel through tort reform without tipping your hat to the opposing side. Not here.

Cut off poor Aunt Suzy from the Medicaid rolls without at least “setting” a spell and thinking it over? You got another thing coming.

While we all recognize the need for change, there’s a way to do it and there’s a way to blow it. The budget of Mississippi needs to be reigned in. No doubt. There are excesses at the top which cannot be corrected by cutting off the folks at the bottom. Tort reform was needed, but you don’t convince regular folks of this by constantly pointing to the poor pitiful doctors. Change comes slowly here, but it can come.

It comes by building consensus. It comes by doing the hard work to bring together opposing sides and ideas. It comes through compromise and concessions. Bulldozers need not apply.

The governor has three plus years to go in this job. Maybe, he can adjust before he’s ridden out of town on a rail.
Slow down. Set a spell. Ask “How’s your Mama?” Listen patiently. Become part of the family. Then, when the social pleasantries are completed, suggest, ever so gently, that there might be a better way. We’re hospitable folks. We’ll invite you in, feed you, care for you, but you must be invited. Don’t try to knock the door down. You’re liable to end up facing the wrong end of a shotgun.

Right now, Gov. Barbour needs to tip-toe backwards. Ease out of the fray, and let those trigger fingers stop twitching. The alternative is a trip back to the northern country of Washington, D.C., come next election. Of course, I can almost hear the chuckling of a certain former attorney general.

Ain’t Mississippi politics fun?

Nancy Lottridge Anderson, CFA, is president of New Perspectives Inc. in Clinton. Her e-mail address is nanderson@newper.com, and she’s online at www.newper.com. Her column appears monthly in the Mississippi Business Journal.

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