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Finding common ground with Haley Barbour

Politics is a nasty business. If I were elected to office, I’d probably be impeached within weeks. I have strong opinions and a loose tongue — a deadly combination for any public servant. Most politicians try to be all things to all people and end up being mush. Too much pandering leads to too little action.

One could never accuse Gov. Barbour of being mush. He is a person of strong opinions, as well. Most of the time, I find myself on the opposite side of the fence and wishing Barbour would just hush up and listen… to me!

To be a leader, you must have conviction. If you’re not sure you’re going in the right direction, no one will follow you. Of course, you also need the wisdom to see when you’re wrong and the stomach to turn around and go the other way. I think every politician should be required to spend two hours a day listening to the opposition, not with a closed mind and tight lips, but with an open heart. The other side just might have some merit, or they could just be blowing smoke. Either way, you need to hear what they have to say.

Besides, listening to someone is a sure way to garner support. Many times, folks aren’t insisting you see it their way. They just want to know you heard them. Truly great ideas come when we really hear the other person and strive for compromise.

I was ready to write off Gov. Barbour as just another hard-nosed, unyielding, dogmatic politician. But then Hurricane Katrina hit, and I saw the governor roll up his sleeves and wade through the muck. I heard the emotion in his voice as he spoke of the damage to the Coast. I saw the look on his face when faced with the huge challenge of rebuilding. I could see that, while we may not agree on all of the issues, we were together on one very big thing: We both love Mississippi.

It seems the winds of Katrina knocked some of the crust off the governor. As the human stories of this great storm were told, we saw the very human side of Haley Barbour. When the governor made the trek to Washington, D.C., to make the case for more assistance from the federal government, he put his own political aspirations in harm’s way.

Now, the governor has changed his stance on the funding of MAEP. Suddenly, he listened and understood. With great strength of character, he changed direction. Hats off to you, Governor.

Don’t get me wrong. Gov. Barbour and I are still far apart on many of the issues, but I must respect anyone who listens to all sides before making deliberate decisions, and I must respect anyone who shares my love of this state and its wonderful people.

Governor, a couple of years ago, I was ready to see you ride on a rail out of town. Now, because you are willing to listen, I’m willing to listen to you. I know there are compromises still to be made, and I know we may not see eye to eye, but the opportunity for dialogue only happens when both parties agree to listen.
So, Governor, thank you for the about face. Don’t confuse my second chance with a free pass, though. I’m a good listener, but I’m a terrible loser.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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