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Where’s the old Haley? We need him more than ever

July 9th, 2010

In the last several weeks, I’ve written several items that have been critical of Gov. Haley Barbour  regarding his response to the Gulf oil spill.
I’m not one of these conspiracy theorists, who are suggesting he is protecting his old oil lobbyist buddies from his days in the business.
Having said that, the continued inaction came to a head last week when beaches in Hancock County were closed as heavy oil washed ashore in Waveland and Bay St. Louis.
Before that, visitors during the Fourth of July holiday taking a trip to Ship Island didn’t see oil in the water but found thick oil on the beaches of the barrier island.
All of this after Gov. Barbour told a group of mostly native Mississippians last month that the oil tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t as bad as the media is making it out to be.
“It’s really more of a nuisance,” he said.
“Really?” I said in a blog post soon after the comments were made.
Barbour made the comments at the Mississippi in the Park event at Central Park in New York City.
In previous columns, I wrote,
Does he really believe that?
Nearly 40 percent of the Gulf of Mexico is closed to fishing and boating; oil is inundating the marshes of Louisiana and is beginning to wash ashore in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
I suppose nuisance is one way to describe it, but I suspect only folks that are trying to downplay the effect of this tragedy would use that term.
Gov. Barbour has no sense of urgency about this event and hasn’t since Day 1.
While Mississippi has not seen the devastation to environment and wildlife that Louisiana has to date, there is no guarantee those conditions will hold.
Well, conditions didn’t hold and the governor appears to be more concerned about either his future presidential aspirations or that of the Republican Party more than what is going on in Mississippi.
Otherwise, how could he be “shocked,” as he told National Public Radio, that the Coast Guard had no way to effectively coordinate hundreds of vessels deployed to fight the Gulf oil spill.
Shouldn’t he, or someone on his staff, researched the actions the Coast Guard was taking prior to its arrival off our shores?
Then, when asked whether the Deepwater Horizon disaster challenges the governor’s “small government, less regulation” ethos, Barbour said the market system is working.
But somewhere along the way, he must have decided that the oil spill is more than a nuisance.
Because last week, he announced a yearlong economic impact study to examine the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Barbour said participants will include the state College Board, Departments of Employment Security, Environmental Quality and Marine Resources, Mississippi Development Authority, the Department of Revenue and the Gulf Coast Business Council.
The $600,000 study will be funded equally by BP and anticipated grant money from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
“We need a clear grasp on how this oil spill will impact the State of Mississippi and local communities for years to come,” Barbour said in a statement. “We want a picture of exactly how this spill will effect Mississippi businesses, families and communities. This study will help as state leaders, agencies and local governments create long-term coastal restoration plans.”
Sounds good, right?
Yeah, well if he had been paying attention, something like that has already been done.
Here’s part of a story we ran nearly a month ago.
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill will cost Mississippi’s coastal counties nearly $120 million in lost tourism and service industry revenues this summer season, even though the state’s beaches have not been hit by crude, say researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi.
David Butler and Edward Sayre project a 5 percent revenue loss from May through August, compared to the same period last year.
Their study, released June 14, notes that tourism has taken a large hit with non-casino hotels down 50 percent. These figures include the tourism and service sectors related to hotels, restaurants and food and beverage outlets. It does not include the losses in the seafood sectors such as shrimping.
The report said the hardest-hit segment of the coastal economy will be charter boats. Revenue is down 70 percent on average, with some down more than 90 percent. Butler and Sayre said that without additional sources of revenue there is a chance that industry will shrink significantly.
Admittedly, the study is a short-term one, but to listen to Barbour, this is something he just cooked up and that he is now on board that this oil spill could be a little bit more than a “nuisance.”
Where is the Haley Barbour that faithfully and dutifully led us effectively through the worst natural disaster in American history?
These days he seems disconnected unless it has to do with the Choctaws opening a insignificant casino.
We need the old Haley Barbour, the one that hitched up his britches and took care of Mississippi when it needed it most.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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