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Barbour does nothing to quiet presidential speculation

February 22nd, 2010 No comments

We reported last week that Gov. Haley Barbour has a big fundraiser coming up Sunday after next whose price tag would suggest it’s going to be used to fund a very expensive race.

This weekend’s meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington did nothing to slow down the rumor mill. Barbour told the Associated Press he had still made no firm plans one way or the other about running for the White House but did say, “If you see me losing 40 pounds that means I’m either running or have cancer.”

Magnolia Marketplace believes Barbour when he says he is focusing on this fall’s midterm elections and the next wave of gubernatorial races and not giving much serious thought — yet — to a presidential run. We also believe, though we have nothing to confirm it, that Barbour really, really, really wants to run for president, and he thinks he would have a good shot at winning if he did.

As for whether he will, it’s just too early to hazard a guess. By year’s end, though, it most likely will be pretty clear if he is or isn’t.

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

For Barbour, fundraisin’ is racin’

February 18th, 2010 9 comments

An interesting piece  of paper made its way to the desk of Magnolia Marketplace late yesterday afternoon.

It’s a flier announcing a fundraiser for Haley’s Leadership PAC, a political action committee formed by Gov. Haley Barbour. And this isn’t just any fundraiser. To go with a pile of cash, participants better have nerves of steel.

For a minimum gift of $5,000 you can hop in a stock car and take a few laps around Las Vegas Motor Speedway with Barbour on Sunday, March 7. After that, you can rub elbows at a cocktail party with Barbour and casino and resort mogul Steve Wynn.

Obviously, politicians at every level hold all sorts of fundraisers pretty much all the time. But a minimum gift of $5,000 is enough to make reasonable folks wonder if that kind of heavy financial weight might be targeted toward a national race — you know, like the one whose winner gets to live in the White House.

So we called Dan Turner, Barbour’s press secretary, and asked him.

Nothing’s changed regarding Barbour’s plans for 2012, Turner said a few minutes ago. Barbour is concentrating on the midterm elections this fall, in which Republicans think there’s a decent chance they can take one or both of the chambers of Congress, and the few dozen governor’s races that will go down between now and 2012. That’s been Barbour’s response to every one of the million different ways he’s been asked if he’s running for president.

“That’s all I’ve ever heard him say,” Turner said.

Ladies and gentlemen, start your speculation.

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

Toyota idling two plants, and a little housekeeping

February 16th, 2010 No comments

Toyota announced today that it will idle two of its manufacturing facilities — one in Texas, the other in Kentucky — as the fallout from the recalls spreads. The plant in Texas, which makes the Tundra truck, will shut down for one week in March and one week in April. The facility in Kentucky, where Toyota builds the Camry and Avalon sedans and the Venza crossover, will idle Feb. 26 and possibly two or three more days in March or April,a spokesman told the Associated Press.

That doesn’t make much of an impact here in Mississippi, but I have a story in this week’s edition of the MBJ that takes a look at how the recalls — which added the Prius about 10 days ago — might affect the Blue Springs plant, which supposedly will build the Prius, though nobody really knows when production will start. Be sure to check it out.

Anyway, there remain a few notes from that story that didn’t really fit with the overall theme of the final draft, but are still worth mentioning:

Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at Edmunds.com, had an interesting take on how Toyota is handling the public relations boondoggle the recalls have created. A lot of folks have said that Toyota was slow to react, and when it did, did not do that great a job. That may be due to a couple things, Krebs said. The first is that there apparently was no established blueprint  to start putting out the fires immediately after they started. Krebs’ second theory goes to the Japanese culture.

“I would think that any major corporation of any sort would have a crisis management plan ready to enact at any moment,” she said. “You would think they would practice some of these scenarios. I think it’s definitely a lack of experience. If you look at the Japanese culture, the companies are revered. They don’t have a lot of lawyers. They don’t have the scrutiny of the media like we do here. And frankly, I think Toyota got arrogant and got complacent.”

Mark Ragsdale, a former dealership owner who now serves as a consultant to the automotive industry, said Toyota put too much of the PR burden on its dealers, which runs counter to the reputation it has enjoyed among its individual franchises.

“Toyota always is in the top two or three in dealer-relations surveys,” Ragsdale said. “But automakers are their own breed of cat. They’re not real big on taking responsibility. The automakers use dealers as human shields to get in front of the customer and handle things, but dealers don’t always have the tools to do that.”

GOP Chairman: Voter ID close to reaching minimum signature requirement

February 9th, 2010 No comments

Magnolia Marketplace just wrapped up a 10-minute conversation with Brad White, chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party.

Nothing is official yet, as the process of certifying signatures is ongoing, but White feels pretty confident enough registered voters have signed petitions in favor of a voter identification law that the issue will appear on the statewide ballot in 2011, giving Mississippians a chance to vote for or against it.

“I’m not ready to jump out and say we’ve got enough, but it looks like we’ve brought in a big enough cushion that we can get there even if the verification process drops some of the signatures,” White said.

Per state law, at least 18,355 signatures from each of the old five congressional districts have to be certified by the circuit clerks of each county in the districts. That would put the minimum number of signatures required for an initiative to make it onto the ballot at 91,673, or 12 percent of the total votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. White said it’s possible the final tally from each of the congressional districts would exceed 20,000, pushing the total from all five above 100,000.

If the initiative does indeed have the requisite number of signatures, it would then head to the Legislature in the 2011 session, where upon its arrival two things could happen: Lawmakers could go ahead and adopt the initiative into law, or they could send it to the ballot for fall 2011.

The county committees of the State GOP, Tea-Party groups and other organizations have spent the past year rounding up signatures for the initiative. Magnolia Marketplace heard reports last fall of people circulating petitions at high school football games, and even witnessed some of the effort firsthand in the Grove.

“This will bring clean voter ID,” White said. “There will be no hangups like people being able to use their electricity bill as identification or anything like that. This initiative mandates that only government-issued ID (such as a driver’s license) is acceptable at the polling places. This is better than any legislative proposal that’s been brought up.”

The Mississippi GOP will hold a press conference Thursday, White said, to update the latest with the certification process.

Categories: Elections, Football, News, Politics Tags:

Toyota makes Prius recall official

February 9th, 2010 No comments

Toyota announced late last night it is recalling 133,000 2010 Prius hybrids to fix problems associated with the antilock braking system software. Also included in the recall are 14,500 2010 Lexus HS 250h models.

Toyota said in a press release that some Prius and 250h owners have experienced “inconsistent brake feel during slow and steady application of brakes on rough or slick road surfaces when the ABS is activated in an effort to maintain tire traction.”

Obviously, the Prius is near and dear to the heart of Mississippi’s business community, with the facility in Blue Springs on tap to eventually build the vehicle. Magnolia Marketplace is working on a story for next week’s MBJ about how the recall mess will (or won’t) affect the goings-on in North Mississippi. Look for it.

UPDATED AT 10 A.M.: Meant to include a link to the Toyota press release, which is here.

Toyota feeling less than Super

February 8th, 2010 No comments

So the Saints won the Super Bowl, Drew Brees won the game’s MVP, and according to various national media outlets, poverty, corruption and every other scourge on New Orleans is gone forever, or at least that’s what the hours of pregame coverage yesterday seemed to imply. And if there is anybody north of Memphis who is aware that Hurricane Katrina did her worst damage in Mississippi, I’d like to meet that person.

Moving on.

Toyota announced yesterday that it will unveil its plan of action for dealing with the problems that have arisen with the Prius’ antilock braking system. This is the latest blow in the wave of recalls to hit the company the past couple of weeks.

We have a message in to the Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America folks in an effort to get a few details on when they’ll make the announcement, and what exactly it will entail.

When we hear back from them, we’ll post what they have to say.

UPDATED AT 10:52 A.M.: Still no word from the stateside Toyota folks, but Kyodo News in Japan is reporting that about 300,000 Prius hybrids will be recalled. Details are here.

UPDATED AGAIN AT 12:53 P.M.: Magnolia Marketplace just heard from Mike Michels, spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA. He did not provide a timetable for when Toyota would issue its Prius solution, saying only that it would be “early this week. Otherwise, there’s nothing to report,” he said.

Categories: Hurricane Katrina, News, Toyota Tags:

FY2010 budget cut — again

February 5th, 2010 No comments

Another Friday, another round of budget cuts.

Exactly two weeks after he cut the fiscal year 2010 budget for the third time, Gov. Haley Barbour cut it again this afternoon.

Today’s trim takes $21 million out of appropriated revenues, bringing the total cuts for FY2010 up to $458.5 million.

January was the 17th consecutive month that revenues had fallen short of projections, and Barbour said this afternoon that today’s cuts were “optimistic,” and that it was almost guaranteed  more would be necessary.

After exemptions, which include debt service, court-ordered settlements and — as of early this week, due to an interpretation of the State Constitution — the Supreme Court, FY2010’s revenue has been reduced by 8.664 percent.

Barbour has come under fire for his handling of the budget, particularly from Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives for his refusal to tap into the state’s rainy day fund.

Barbour said of the three revenue estimation models his office uses in deciding how much to cut, he has used the model that calls for cutting the least amount of money, which has forced him to make additional cuts once monthly revenue collections come up short, like they have for the past year and a half .

“If there’s a criticism, it’s that we’re not cutting enough,” Barbour said.

Categories: Haley Barbour, News, Politics, State revenue Tags:

Spokeswoman: Prius recall not yet official

February 5th, 2010 No comments

We just got off the phone with Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Spokeswoman Barbara McDaniel. Here’s the full transcript of our brief conversation.

Magnolia Marketplace: “Has anything become official with the Prius recall?”

McDaniel: “No, there’s nothing official. We’re still investigating.”

Magnolia Marketplace: “I’m contractually obligated to ask this question, but will this have any effect on the Blue Springs facility?”

McDaniel: “No.”

So there you have it. Gov. Haley Barbour is holding a press conference at 11 a.m. to announce yet another round of budget cuts, but we’ll try to sneak in a question about Toyota and see what he thinks.

UPDATED AT 9:36 A.M.: Barbour’s office has just issued a press release announcing the press conference at 11 has been canceled so Barbour can “continue to analyze budget options.”

News out of Japan says Toyota will recall 2010 Prius

February 4th, 2010 No comments

Toyota, which supposedly will build its hybrid Prius at some point in Blue Springs, has not had the greatest month.

Seven of the company’s models, totaling more than 5 million vehicles, have been recalled the past two weeks because of issues with accelerators sticking.

Now comes news from Japan — where it’s already Friday so the daily newspapers have hit the Web and the streets — that the company is expected to recall the 2010 Prius because of problems with the car’s antilock braking system. The Nikkei, the Japanese version of the Wall Street Journal, reports that the Japanese Transport Ministry has yet to receive notice of a formal recall, which would have to happen before anything became official. There have been a total of only 180 complaints in the U.S. and Japan associated with the Prius’s brakes, but the falloutf rom the first round of recalls has probably magnified the issue somewhat.

We’ll have reaction from statesode Toyota folks first thing in the morning.

Categories: News, Toyota Tags:

Spokeswoman: Toyota recall will have no bearing on Blue Springs plans

February 2nd, 2010 No comments

Toyota, which has long been considered the gold standard for automotive companies, has taken a substantial hit lately with its recall related to gas pedals sticking to the floor, causing sudden and unintended acceleration. (“Sudden unintended acceleration” — now that sounds scary.)

Anyway, most of the media coverage has focused on how the company will rebound from having to suspend sales of eight of its models, including the Camry, traditionally one of its best sellers.

What the recall will not touch is Toyota’s plans for Blue Springs, according to spokeswoman Barbara McDaniel. “Totally unrelated” is how McDaniel characterized the recall and the question of when the facility in North Mississippi will start production.

Not included in the gas pedal recall is the hybrid Prius, the vehicle Toyota plans to build in Blue Springs whenever it decides to open it.

In legislative news, today marks a major deadline. Bills that aren’t sent out of their committees by midnight tonight will die. Magnolia Marketplace is working on a story for next week’s MBJ that takes a look at what died and what survived that is of interest to the business community. Look for it.