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Barbour looks back, ahead in speech to MEDC

February 3rd, 2011 No comments

Economic development is a marathon. It’s not a sprint.

That was the general theme of Gov. Haley Barbour’s speech at the Mississippi Economic Development Council’s Winter Meeting Thursday morning at the Hilton in Jackson.

No better illustration of that concept exists, Barbour said, than the process that led to Toyota’s decision to build in Blue Springs.

In the summer of 2004, a few months after Barbour started his first term, he went to the annual Mississippi Picnic in the Park in New York City’s Central Park. While he was there, Barbour ran into a few Toyota executives. Toyota had not made it known that they intended to build a new facility in North America, but Barbour chatted up Mississippi anyway.

“We worked with Toyota on tort reform, and on a lot of things that had nothing at all to do with Toyota,” Barbour told the several hundred gathered in one of the Hilton’s ballrooms.

And when Toyota started the competitive process to select a new site, “we were in a good position to compete because we had started the marathon,” Barbour said.

This was the eighth and final time Barbour would address the MEDC’s Winter Meeting, at least as governor. He did a lot of reflecting, recounting the horror of Katrina and the early stages of economic and physical recovery. He implored the economic developers in attendance to have a plan in place for every conceivable disaster, natural or otherwise.

And speaking of Katrina, Barbour said Mississippi stood its best chance of emerging from the recession at the front of the pack because of the acclaim Mississippi earned for the way we handled ourselves in the wake of the hurricane.

“CEOs told me then and they tell me now that we have an awful lot to be proud of,” Barbour said.

The speech was not without a small amount of political posturing. Barbour said he was writing a letter today to lawmakers, urging them to refrain from spending all of the state’s Rainy Day Fund for fiscal year 2012, whose budget-crafting process, to go with redistricting, will be the biggest issue of the legislative session. Depleting the cash reserves would increase Mississippi’s chances of landing another Toyota or Nissan, because it would give those companies assurance that “their taxes aren’t going to be increased,” Barbour said. “And that’s music to their ears.”

 

State’s non-economic damages cap certified by Fifth Circuit

January 20th, 2011 No comments

Mississippi’s $1 million cap on non-economic damages in civil cases has just been certified by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The question will now be before the Mississippi Supreme Court for the second time in a year.

In a ruling handed down yesterday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals certified the constitutionality of the non-economic damages question to the Mississippi Supreme Court. The punitive damages cap was one of the centerpieces of the 2004 tort reform legislation.

The case this question arose from involved a woman, Lisa Learmonth, who had sued Sears and Roebuck Co. after she had been involved in an automobile collision with one of the company’s vans. A District Court jury found Sears liable for her injuries and awarded Learmonth $4 million in compensatory damages. The trial judge lowered the compensatory damages award to $1 million. Her attorneys appealed that to the Fifth Circuit; Sears’ attorneys appealed to the same court seeking a new trial, after the trial judge denied that motion.

In its ruling, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial judge’s decision to not grant Sears a new trial, and also affirmed the adjustment of the compensatory damages from $4 million to $1 million.

This is the second time in about a year that Mississippi’s constitutional cap on non-economic damages has undergone a legal challenge. In late winter of last year, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld $1 million in damages stemming from a premises liability case involving a Double Quick convenience store in Belzoni. A jury had awarded Ronnie Lee Lymas, who had been severely beaten outside of the Belzoni Double Quick, compensatory damages in excess of $1 million, but the same thing happened there as with the federal case: The trial judge adjusted the damages to conform with the $1 million cap.

That case, Double Quick Inc. v. Ronnie Lee Lymas, represented the first serious challenge to Mississippi’s constitutional cap since its inception in 2004. It drew amicus briefs on behalf of Double Quick from every business and trade group imaginable, and even one from Gov. Haley Barbour. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Double Quick, but it did not clearly say that the damages cap was 100 percent in line with the state’s constitution; it did clearly answer the premises liability question.

What this Fifth Circuit ruling does, best we can tell, is leave the constitutionality of the compensatory damages cap to the Mississippi Supreme Court; and this time, there is no out like there was with the premises liability issue in the Double Quick case. The nine justices in Jackson will have to decide once and for all if the damages cap is constitutional. We have left a voicemail for a law professor we depend on to interpret such matters, and we’ll report what he says when we hear back.

Obviously, this latest ruling from the Fifth Circuit will draw plenty of attention from Mississippi’s legal community. You can read the ruling here.

UPDATED AT 11:55 A.M. : We just got off the phone with Matt Steffey, a professor at Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. He confirmed what we wrote earlier, that the Mississippi Supreme Court has now been asked by the Fifth Circuit to determine the constitutionality of the damages cap.

But there is a catch.

“Theoretically, it is possible the Mississippi Supreme Court could decline to answer the question, or to not answer it totally and clearly,” Steffey said. “An out (like there was in the Double Quick case) would be much harder to come by, but it wouldn’t be impossible. Ordinarily you would expect the state Supreme Court to answer the question. I would think it’s likely they would.”

So there you have it. It will almost certainly be early summer before the Supreme Court hands down a ruling on this. In the meantime, the amicus brief from the same groups — and probably from Barbour, too — will fly into the Gartin Justice Building just like they did in the Double Quick case.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

Barbour sounds more like a presidential candidate than he ever has

January 11th, 2011 2 comments

For the past few months, anytime somebody’s asked us if we thought Haley Barbour would run for president in 2012, our answer has been the same: He already is.

And no better proof of that exists than Barbour’s last State of the State.

Tuesday night at the Capitol, Barbour threw out enough conservative red meat to feed the 5,000. He talked about fiscal restraint and smaller government. He boasted of the advanced manufacturing projects the state has lured and the jobs they have created. Barbour refreshed everybody’s memory on tort reform and issued a reminder that he hasn’t raised anybody’s taxes. He slammed President Obama’s energy policies right after he pointed out that 2004’s Defense of Marriage Act got more votes percentage-wise in Mississippi than any other state in the nation. It went on and on.

Of course, Barbour didn’t talk quite as much about the budget shortfall he’s enduring now or the brutally unpopular decisions that lie ahead for him and lawmakers on how to spend scarce state revenue. Barbour won’t be on a ballot this year, but a lot of folks who have carried his water — especially in the Senate — will be, and there will come an issue that will force some of them to choose loyalty to the governor or loyalty to their political well-being. 

But cold reality is not what a State of the State is about . It’s about political chest-thumping, and Barbour beat his with both fists. The hard stuff can wait until February and March.

Barbour has said he’ll announce his presidential plans in the spring. Call us crazy, but we think the decision has been made for quite some time, and his last turn in front of a joint session of the Legislature only made us think that even more.

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

Transportation commission getting total makeover — almost

January 10th, 2011 No comments

Lots of news on a snowy/icy morning, so let’s lace up our boots and get after it.

MDOT Executive Director Butch Brown has announced he will step down in June, at the end of the fiscal year. That comes as no big surprise. Brown is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, after it returned for the third time late last year.

Politically, there are immediate ramifications: The most obvious is it will remove a major campaign theme. Each of the candidates would have had to address Brown’s leadership style and his out-of-office activities. Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall would have seen to it.

Sen. Tom King, R-Petal, who chairs the Transportation Committee, revealed today that he will seek to replace the retiring Wayne Brown (no relation to Butch) for the Southern District Post. He’s probably the favorite right now, and had been considered such once it became clear a few weeks ago would he would seek the post.

Speaking of elections, the special election to replace Bill Minor, who represented MDOT’s Northern District until his death late least  year, is still scheduled for tomorrow, but that could change.

Gov. Haley Barbour, his spokesman Dan Turner told us just a minute ago, will make that decision some time this morning. Theoretically, Turner said, the Coast could go ahead with its election to replace Steven Palazzo, and North Mississippi could wait until maybe Wednesday to hold a vote for Minor’s old seat and to fill Alan Nunnelee’s post.

“But I really doubt one would go forward without the other,” Turner said. “Right now if the pattern holds, and this is your typical Mississippi ice storm that’s here one day and gone the next, they’ll go on as normal.”

At the Capitol, the Senate is still set to gavel in at 3 p.m.; the House will follow at 4 p.m. We have a feeling there’ll be a few snow stories swapped.

GOP speculation and 1,000 jobs in the Pine Belt (Updated)

January 4th, 2011 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up a phone conversation with one of our political type friends, in which we talked about two things: the supposed economic development deal Gov. Haley Barbour will announce today and who might succeed Brad White as state GOP chairman.

White announced this morning he would step down and run for Simpson County chancery clerk.

So let’s get to it.

The general consensus is that whatever deal Barbour will reveal will have something to do with Hattiesburg, and will bring somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 jobs. “I know nothing beyond that,” said our friend.

Barbour, as is his wont, is staying quiet on the issue until he’s ready to make it official.

Our source was a little more knowledgeable on the subject of the new GOP chairman. He threw out two names — former state GOP executive director Arnie Hederman and current lawmaker Phillip Gunn from Clinton.

Hederman was executive director under former chairman Jim Herring. The chairman sets policy and runs meetings, while the executive director runs the day-to-day operations. White has filled both the executive director and chairman roles since he was elected in spring 2008.

The executive commitee that will select a new chairman could opt to appoint one person to fill both seats, or split it like they did with the Hederman-Herring duo. Naturally, Barbour will have a big say in who slides into either seat, because the executive committee will defer greatly to what Barbour wants.

But with Barbour’s time as governor running out, his replacement could decide to bring in his own person, so that situation could be fluid for the next year.

Another name to keep in mind, and we have nothing but our imagination to thank for this: Hayes Dent. The Jackson lobbyist, who like Barbour is from Yazoo City, has been active in GOP politics for three decades. He knows the landscape.

So stay tuned, as they say.

UPDATED AT 10:05 A.M.: Naturally, as soon as we hit the publish button, Barbour issues a release. Here it is, in full:

Hattiesburg – Governor Haley Barbour and officials from Stion, a venture-backed manufacturer of high-efficiency, low-cost thin film solar panels, announced today the company is locating a 100-megawatt solar panel production facility in Hattiesburg, Miss. The operations will be located in the Sunbeam building. The production line is the first phase of a company investment of $500 million that will create 1,000 new jobs over the next six years.
“Today’s announcement that Stion is locating a thin film solar panel manufacturing facility in Hattiesburg is further proof that Mississippi is an ideal location for clean energy companies to locate and expand,” Governor Haley Barbour said. “I am pleased to welcome Stion to Mississippi, and I thank the company for creating so many high-quality jobs for Mississippi’s workers.”
From its Hattiesburg location, Stion will utilize its proprietary material and process expertise to produce its high-efficiency, thin film solar panels. The 110W to 120W panels are designed for use in all major applications, including commercial /government, residential, utility and off-grid and offer significant cost and performance advantages over many competing products. The company will use approximately 300,000 square feet of the Hattiesburg facility to manufacture the solar panels.
“Together, the state of Mississippi, Forrest County, and the city of Hattiesburg offer a business-friendly location with a strong resource base for manufacturing,” said Chet Farris, Stion’s president and chief executive officer. “We are pleased to partner with them to help increase domestic production of clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the local and national economy.”
The State of Mississippi is providing loan assistance totaling $75 million through the Mississippi Industry Incentive Financing Revolving Fund, pending approval by the Legislature. The State is
also providing clean energy tax incentives and workforce training incentives for the project. Additionally, local officials provided tax and other financial incentives to assist with the project.
“In 2010, Mississippi sought legislation to target clean energy companies, and Stion’s location in Hattiesburg is a result of this effort,” said Gray Swoope, Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) executive director. “I am excited to see Stion occupy the Sunbeam building. I know firsthand that the quality of the building coupled with the area’s workforce equals a win-win situation for the community and the company.”
Founded in 2006, Stion currently produces its highly-efficient, low-cost thin film solar panels in its state-of-the-art, 100,000-square-foot manufacturing and research and development facility in San Jose, Calif., where the company is headquartered.
To learn more about Stion, please visit the company’s website at www.stion.com.

Barbour to reveal economic development deal tomorrow?

January 3rd, 2011 No comments

It’s the first work day of the new year, and Magnolia Marketplace thought we might be able to catch Dan Turner off his guard.

We didn’t.

Reports have surfaced this afternoon that Gov. Haley Barbour will announce an economic development project Tuesday morning. So will he?

“You know we don’t comment on any economic development deal until it’s officially announced,” Turner said.

In the past month or so, we’ve heard rumors of a deal for Hattiesburg, Tupelo and all points in between, but there’s been nobody willing to put their name on it. Maybe Barbour will fill in some gaps tomorrow.

So stay tuned.

Hyde-Smith’s defection a step toward run for ag commish?

December 28th, 2010 No comments

New Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Brookhaven cemented her status as one of Magnolia Marketplace’s favorite legislators in the 2009 session.

It was during the Senate’s debate before the vote on whether to override or sustain Gov. Haley Barbour’s veto of a bill that would have restricted the use of eminent domain for projects of direct public use, like roads and bridges, and eliminated it as a tool for private economic development.

As we all know, Barbour’s veto was sustained. Hyde-Smith voted to override it, but not before she gave one of the best floor speeches we’ve ever heard. The highlight of her diatribe was a warning to her fellow lawmakers. Hyde-Smith said her colleagues who voted to sustain Barbour’s veto “had better have asbestos underwear because somebody’s going to light your rear-end on fire when you get back home.” The rest of the day, folks called her “the asbestos lady.”

Hyde-Smith was one of three state officials who switched from the Democratic party to the GOP this afternoon, during a ceremony at Republican headquarters in Jackson. Magnolia Marketplace couldn’t make it because we had an appointment with a source we’d been trying to run down for more than a week.

Hyde-Smith joins Rep. Bobby Shows of Ellisville and Simpson County Superintendent of Education Joe Welch in trading a donkey for an elephant.

But it’s Hyde-Smith’s defection that is the most interesting, and here’s why: She’s a cattle farmer when she’s not at the capitol. She chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. The current commissioner of agriculture, Lester Spell, has already said he won’t seek re-election next year.

Even before November’s midterms, Democrats — with few exceptions like Attorney General Jim Hood — haven’t done well in statewide races.

We’ve heard Hyde-Smith’s name brought up in recent casual political conversations about candidates for down-ballot offices in 2011.

We ran this theory by two political types.

“Makes sense,” said one.

“We’ll see,” said the other.

We just left a voicemail on Hyde-Smith’s cell phone. If and when she gets back to us, we’ll let you know what she says.

Barbour responds to Weekly Standard ruccus

December 21st, 2010 1 comment

Gov. Haley Barbour has endured another round of racially tinged criticism for comments in this week’s Weekly Standard, in which he said the Citizens Council played an important role in keeping civil rights unrest to a minimum in his hometown of Yazoo City. 

It took center stage on most of this morning’s talk shows. Barbour, either directly or through his spokesman, has been asked enough about it that he decided to issue a statement about the matter.

This comes a few months after Barbour received similar fire for his assertion that the raised hackles over Confederate History Month “didn’t amount to diddly.”

Here is his statement, in full:

“When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns’ integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn’t tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the ‘Citizens Council,’ is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

Categories: Elections, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags:

Judge’s healthcare ruling sets up the inevitable (updated)

December 13th, 2010 No comments

Monday morning’s ruling by a federal judge in Virginia that struck down the mandate portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is another setback for Democrats, sure.

But all the ruling does is affirm what we already knew: The U.S. Supreme Court will have final say. No matter which way the lower courts ruled in the slew of lawsuits that have challenged the healthcare reform legislation, the losing side would appeal until it reached SCOTUS.

If you’re interested, read Monday’s ruling here.

UPDATE: Gov. Haley Barbour has just released a statement about the ruling. Here it is, in full:

“The decision of the federal court in Virginia is encouraging to all of us who consider the Obamacare law unconstitutional; however, we know the case will ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

SECOND UPDATE: Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has issued his own statement. It says:

“I have believed this act to be unconstitutional from the very beginning, and that is why I filed the very first private lawsuit challenging the health care law. I commend federal Judge Henry E. Hudson in Virginia for standing up against a law that strips states and individuals of the freedom to choose health insurance.”
Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Phil Bryant, Politics Tags:

GOP leadership to welcome party-switcher

December 7th, 2010 No comments

The Mississippi Republican Party just announced that it will welcome a new member into the fold Wednesday afternoon at a press conference at the GOP building on Congress Street in Jackson.

The press release doesn’t say who it is, but did say it’s a Democratic state official, which means it’s most likely a member of the Legislature. Gov. Haley Barbour will be there, as will state GOP Chairman Brad White.

Magnolia Marketplace will be there at 1 p.m., and we’ll have the ins and outs shortly thereafter, so be ready.

Categories: Brad White, Haley Barbour, News, Politics Tags: