It’s official: Barbour for Governor
by Lynne W. Jeter
Published: February 17,2003
A decade ago, Yazoo City native Haley Barbour was elected chairman of the Republican National Committee. In November 1994, Republicans won the greatest midterm majority sweep of the 20th century. On Jan. 20, 1995, two years to the day before the next presidential inauguration, Barbour won by unanimous vote re-election for a second term as chairman of the GOP.
A seventh-generation Mississippian and graduate of the Ole Miss law school, Barbour was a practicing attorney and partner in the law firm of Barbour & Rogers, with offices in Mississippi and Washington, D.C., when he took a hiatus from his law practice in 1985 to serve President Ronald Reagan as director of the White House Office of Political Affairs. Barbour also served as a senior adviser to the George Bush for President campaign in 1988.
Last November, Republicans retained control of the U.S. House of Representatives and regained control of the U.S. Senate. Barbour, who lives in Yazoo City with his wife, Marsha, sat down with the Mississippi Business Journal to discuss his motivation and agenda as a Republican candidate for governor of Mississippi this year.
Mississippi Business Journal: Why are you running for governor?
Haley Barbour: If you would have told me three years ago that I’d be running for governor, I would’ve said you had lost your mind. But, over the past three years, our state has been going in the wrong direction — and that’s why I made the decision to run for governor. If we are to solve real problems, there has to be real leadership. Leadership starts with leveling with the public about the terrible financial condition of our state and about the dire effects of lawsuit abuse. We must set budget priorities and stick to them.
MBJ: If elected governor, how will you work with the Legislature and what can the governor really do, considering the limitations on the office imposed by the state constitution?
HB: The first thing the governor can do is to provide leadership, and we aren’t getting that today. The Legislature is starving for strong leadership from the governor. If the governor provides the right kind of leadership, he can develop a consensus for solving problems. The Legislature and governor can have a much better working relationship than they do now. As far as the current relationship between the Legislature and the governor, it’s hard to imagine how things could get worse.
MBJ: As a long-time political observer and strategist, do you think Mississippi is primed for its own Republican revolution in 2003?
HB: First, it should be noted that no Democrat has received a majority of the vote for governor in Mississippi since 1987. Mississippians want to vote for the conservative candidate who shares the values and principles of the majority of our citizens. That’s why Mississippi has voted Republican for President and senator in every election since 1984, and it also explains why state and local elections are being won more and more by Republican candidates. In 2003, Republicans can have a breakthrough year in our state, but it will take an unprecedented grassroots, volunteer-intensive effort along the line of Chip Pickering’s successful campaign last year.
MBJ: How about working with recent party-switchers in the Mississippi Legislature?
HB: Those who’ve recently switched parties did so because they believed their values and beliefs were much more in line with those of the Republican Party. As a Republican, I certainly welcome them, and I look forward to working with them. But it is also crucial to have a positive, effective working relationship with Democrats in the Legislature and throughout state government. A governor must provide real leadership, and that includes the ability to work with members of both parties and all races.
MBJ: What kind of staff are you putting together?
HB: It’s a strong, motivated group. They range in age from 19 to 86. Several worked in Chip Pickering’s successful campaign last year, and many have worked for Thad Cochran, Trent Lott, Kirk Fordice and Roger Wicker. It is a biracial, bipartisan group of Mississippians who are dedicated to getting our state back on the right track.
MBJ: Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has a reputation of being a tireless campaigner. How does that factor into your campaign strategy?
HB: Beating an incumbent is never easy. This governor’s reputation is that of being a tireless campaigner and of being extremely political. My job is to show people why I ought to be governor, not why someone else ought not to be. I’ll run as hard as I can all the way through the finish line. It will be crucial that I have a large, active, grassroots organization of dedicated supporters who do that, too.
MBJ: Do you think the campaign will get nasty, negative?
HB: Experience leads one to expect this governor to run a negative campaign, attacking me. They’ll try to make me unacceptable, because they can’t run a campaign on the Musgrove administration’s record. My campaign will be issues-based and it will deal with the real and worsening problems facing Mississippi. As I said before, I’ll focus on why I ought to be governor instead of why someone else ought not to be.
MBJ: What is your view of the current state economy?
HB: Last year, more than 100 plants closed in Mississippi for the first time ever in state history. Since 1999, the year this governor was elected, Mississippi has lost an incredibly high percentage of our manufacturing jobs. Fewer people are employed in Mississippi than they were in January 2000. The state government’s response: to cut state support for colleges and universities by $99 million; to cut state support of community colleges, our principal workforce development institutions, by 23%. We need strong leadership in economic development, job creation and fiscal management now more than ever. Leadership starts with telling the people the truth about our situation, and we have to stop blaming our problems on somebody else.
MBJ: In terms of economic development, in what direction beyond Nissan should the state being going?
HB: First, we’ve got to get back on the right footing with our education and workforce development funding. Education is the number one economic development issue in Mississippi and everywhere else. So, when state support is cut for colleges, universities and community colleges, poor leadership and management undermine our prospects for economic growth.
One clear lesson to be learned from the $295-million state bond issue for Nissan has to do with workforce development. Hardly any of the $85 million of Mississippi taxpayers’ money provided for job training in the Nissan bond issue is being spent with our state’s community colleges, our principle workforce development institutions. It is mystifying when our job training money gets spent in Tennessee and Japan instead of with the state’s own community colleges, which would have benefited tremendously from the infrastructure improvements and experience. Our community colleges have very good track records of success, but they and our universities were largely cut out of the Nissan deal, even though their reputations and performance quality would have benefited greatly from such an enormous project. Community colleges need to be given more of the ‘franchise’ in this area, and they need to receive the resources and the responsibility to accomplish these goals. They can produce.
Our research universities can also do more than is being asked of them. We must go beyond research and development and on to application and commercialization. The universities are ready and able to play a major role in economic development well beyond what is being asked of them now, but we must provide them financial stability and an expanded mission.
Infrastructure is another imperative for economic development, which is why it is dismaying to see the st
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