Nearly every senator who spoke during floor debate before voting to override or sustain Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of House Bill 803, which would have eliminated the use of eminent domain legislation for major economic development projects, said they were doing so based on their personal principles, and not because of or in spite of Barbour.
“This is not about the governor,” said Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson, who opposes Barbour on most issues, and voted to override.
“I’m not changing my vote (to sustain) because the governor did a lot of wining and dining,” said Sen. Johnnie Walls, D-Greenville, who also opposes Barbour the majority of the time, but voted to sustain his veto. “He had grapes, strawberries and crackers. To wine and dine I think you should at least have wine. The casinos haven’t given us enough jobs in the Delta. We need a major economic development project.” Walls, along with 50 other senators, had voted in favor of HB 803 March 5.
After three hours of Scripture-quoting, emotionally charged speeches that centered on the rights of private property ownership and the right of the government to seize it and hand it over to another private entity, Barbour’s veto was sustained Thursday right after lunch. Barbour needed 18 votes. He got 22. Twenty-eight senators voted to override Barbour.
Two days before the Senate sustained Barbour’s veto, the House had overridden it 101-19, raising the possibility that Barbour could have a veto completely overridden for the first time.
An overridden veto would have weakened one of Barbour’s principal political strengths. Barbour has campaigned twice on improving the state’s business climate. His first run for governor was built around the promise that he would push through tort reform legislation. His second run for governor was punctuated most by his efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but he spent a lot of energy touting the arrival of Toyota in Blue Springs and attributing it greatly to the tort reform of 2004.
Both of Barbour’s terms have had as hallmarks his ability to turn a constitutionally weak state office into a powerful one. He delivered pressure from the bottom up on legislators who balked at tort reform. He did the same thing with HB 803, said Marty Wiseman, director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.
“If (the Senate sustaining the veto) is not an indicator of the governor taking a statutorily weak position and, by sheer force of personality and political strategy, making it a strong position, I don’t know what is,” Wiseman said.
Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, voted to override Barbour, but not before praising the governor.
“I’m doing something I never thought I’d be doing and that is voting to override a governor I admire and respect,” McDaniel said.
Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, who voted to override, chairs the Judiciary A Committee that sent the bill to the full Senate. “We can still have squabbles, but still be friends at the end of the day,” he said of his decision to go against Barbour.
That even Republicans who had decided to buck Barbour would basically apologize for it is a testament to the kind of party discipline Barbour has instilled since he first took office in January 2004, Wiseman said.
“Haley has really, really strengthened the hand of the governor,” he said. “It takes know-how and money and all that to do that. You hear (lawmakers) as a matter of routine now tell folks they have to check with the governor or see what the governor says about so and so.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at firstname.lastname@example.org .