Gov. Haley Barbour (R)
Elected: 2003, term expires Jan. 2012, 2nd term.
Born: Oct. 22, 1947, Yazoo City .
Home: Yazoo City.
Education: Attended U. of MS; U. of MS, J.D. 1973.
Family: Married (Marsha); 2 children.
Professional Career: State dir., U.S. Census Bureau, 1969-70; RNC Committeeman, 1984-98; Dir., White House Office of Political Affairs, 1985-87; CEO & founder, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, 1991-present; Chmn., RNC, 1993-97.
Republican Haley Barbour was elected governor of Mississippi in 2003 and re-elected in 2007. He is only the second Republican to win the office since Reconstruction. He grew up in Yazoo City in the Mississippi Delta. His father was a lawyer who died of a heart attack when Haley was 2 years old, leaving his 31-year-old mother to raise the three Barbour boys. A star athlete and class valedictorian, Barbour was voted Mr. Yazoo High School and won a scholarship to attend Ole Miss. But he left during his senior year to take a job on Republican Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential campaign. Barbour returned to Ole Miss and graduated from the university’s law school in 1973. Three years later, he ran Republican Gerald Ford’s presidential campaign in the Southeast, and he has been actively involved in GOP politics ever since. In 1980, Barbour worked on John Connally’s White House bid. In 1982, he took on longtime Democratic Sen. John Stennis, then the chairman of the Armed Services Committee. Stennis had not faced a serious challenge since 1947, when he was elected to succeed Democratic Sen. Theodore G. Bilbo, and some expected that the octogenarian would not seek re-election in 1982. But he did, and Barbour approached the issue of Stennis’s age gingerly. He ran with the slogan, “A senator for the ’80s,” knowing that it would remind voters that he was running against a senator who was in his 80s. The strategy didn’t work. Stennis won 64%-36%, carrying 80 of 82 counties even though Barbour outspent him. At age 35, Barbour showed a sophisticated understanding of the nexus between money and politics. In what was then the most expensive race in state history, he raised and spent more than $1 million at a time when that amount could buy a great deal of attention in Mississippi.
|Haley Barbour (R)||430,807||(58%)|
|John Eaves (D)||313,232||(42%)|
|Haley Barbour (R)||184,036||(93%)|
|Frederick Jones (R)||13,611||(7%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2003 (53%)
It also got Barbour noticed in Washington, where he became Ronald Reagan’s White House political director in 1985 and later an adviser to George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign. In 1991, he took advantage of his connections and hung out his shingle, founding Barbour Griffith & Rogers, now BGR Holdings, one of Washington’s powerhouse lobbying firms. From 1993 to 1997, Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee, heading the party when it won a congressional majority for the first time in 40 years in 1994 and earning some of the credit. When he left the RNC and returned to his lobbying firm, he was positioned as one of Washington’s most influential lobbyists, well connected to key members of the House and Senate and much sought-after by big corporate clients with interests before the Republican-controlled Congress.
In his years in Washington, Barbour maintained his ties back home. He served as a Republican national committeeman from 1984 until 1998, and regularly traveled to Yazoo City where his wife and sons lived. In 2002, he announced he would challenge Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who, after winning just a 49.5% plurality in 1999, had been elected by the Mississippi House of Representatives. Much of Musgrove’s term was taken up with controversy over the state flag, which had the Confederate battle cross in the upper-left-hand corner. The state Supreme Court ruled the flag illegal, but the new flag endorsed by Musgrove was rejected by voters in April 2001 by 65%-35%.
Barbour’s main campaign issue was tort law and the civil justice system. Mississippi had become a trial lawyers’ paradise, with seven product-liability judgments of $100 million or more in six years and medical-malpractice suits driving doctors out of an already underserved state. Musgrove got the Legislature to place limits on tort suits in 2002, but Barbour said they didn’t go far enough. Musgrove fought back. “I’ve put Mississippi first. Haley Barbour has spent the last 20 years in Washington, D.C., putting special interests first,” Musgrove said. He criticized Barbour for representing tobacco and pharmaceutical companies and lobbying for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which, Musgrove said, cost Mississippi 41,000 jobs. Barbour contended that Musgrove mismanaged the state economy and wasn’t serious enough about fixing the civil justice system. Musgrove responded that Barbour was “running down Mississippi” and he claimed credit for attracting the Nissan plant to Madison County. Barbour reminded voters of Musgrove’s endorsement of Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 2000 by airing a commercial with footage of Gore and Musgrove embracing. Musgrove was not helped by Senate Democrats’ October 2003 filibuster of the nomination of Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Musgrove publicly backed Pickering’s nomination, and sent senators a letter urging confirmation.
Barbour raised $10.6 million to Musgrove’s $8.5 million, setting another record for the most expensive race in state history. Barbour won 53%-46%. He carried 51 of 82 counties and won big margins amid heavy turnout in key Republican counties such as fast-growing DeSoto County, just south of Memphis, and suburban Rankin County, just east of Jackson. That offset high African-American turnout, which Democrats had counted on because of the presence of two black statewide nominees in down-ballot races. Exit polls showed that blacks voted 94% for Musgrove and white voters went 77% for Barbour.
Barbour took office with Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate. But in 2004, he won approval of his bill to cap pain-and-suffering tort damages generally to $1 million and to $500,000 in medical-malpractice cases. The legislation also limited lawsuit forum-shopping and protected “innocent sellers” of faulty products. Barbour took credit for several economic development deals—a 500-job Textron Fastening Systems plant in Greenville and a 400-job FedEx Ground facility in Olive Branch. In 2005, he proposed cutting most agency budgets by 5%. The Legislature approved a tax increase on nursing home beds to help fund the state’s ailing Medicaid program, and Barbour and the Legislature ultimately restored the program to solvency by borrowing $240 million from Mississippi’s health care trust fund and instituting tighter restrictions on the number of prescriptions, emergency room visits, and home health care visits.
Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast on Barbour’s watch, on August 29, 2005. He described its aftermath along the Mississippi coast as “nuclear destruction.” The main force of the hurricane was directed at Hancock County, and the towns of Waveland, Bay St. Louis and Pass Christian were totally wiped out. Casinos were destroyed or severely damaged, costing the state $500,000 a day in revenue. The shrimping and shipbuilding industries were also disrupted by extensive damage to the state’s 90-mile coastline. Barbour quickly took charge and drew national notice for his decisive leadership, particularly in contrast to the muddled reaction of Louisiana leaders to their hurricane-related problems.
The governor appointed a commission to coordinate the recovery, led by former Netscape chief Jim Barksdale. “We will rebuild bigger and better than ever,” Barbour said. “It’s going to take some time, and people have to be patient.” The state’s recovery was assisted by federal money secured by the powerful Mississippi congressional delegation, and it did not hurt that Republican Thad Cochran was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Soon $5 billion was authorized for Mississippi, $3 billion of it for housing. Barbour administered grants and low-interest loans to home and business owners who suffered uninsured losses; the Federal Emergency Management Agency shelled out $2.4 billion for National Flood Insurance Program claims. The state House and Senate changed the gambling law to allow casinos to be built on land within 800 feet of the shore, and casino owners moved in rapidly to rebuild. By June 2006, the state had gained 30,000 jobs over 2005, wages were up, and developers were gentrifying what were once low-income Gulf Coast neighborhoods. Barbour’s connections in Washington paid off, as D.C. lobbyists and friends sent supplies in the first days following the hurricane and later held fundraising events for the Mississippi Hurricane Recovery Fund that Barbour created not long after Katrina landed. Before the hurricane, Barbour’s positive job rating in a SurveyUSA poll was 43%; after Katrina, his rating spiked to 58%. It remained above 50% for the rest of the year.
In July 2006, touting his job-creation efforts and fiscal restraint, Barbour announced the state’s first budget surplus in years. He rebuffed efforts by Democrats to lower the grocery tax and raise the cigarette tax, saying that a lower grocery tax would have minimal impact on the poor because the state’s 450,000 food stamp recipients were not subject to the tax. His credibility on economic development got a big boost when Toyota announced it had chosen a site near Tupelo as the site of a new 2,000-job assembly plant. In his 2007 State of the State address, Barbour told lawmakers, “There’s no doubt in my mind that the future of Mississippi is brighter than it’s ever been in our history…. As strange as it might seem, that awful catastrophe Katrina is part of the reason.” He might as well have been discussing his own political future. His name was briefly floated as a possible presidential contender for 2008, but Barbour said he would not run because hurricane recovery demanded his full attention. He could be a possible candidate in 2012.
He ran for re-election as governor, however, starting the 2007 contest with $3.5 million. The Democratic nominee was John Arthur Eaves, a personal-injury lawyer from Madison County. During the campaign, Eaves called for cutting the grocery tax while Barbour promised an unspecified tax cut. Barbour also called for spending $125 million over five years to reduce school dropout rates and for higher pay for teachers with 25 years of service. Eaves emphasized prayers and faith, and, to Barbour’s irritation, pressed for details of Barbour’s blind trust. Barbour was helped by endorsements from some prominent Democrats, including former congressman and Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy and former Gov. Bill Waller. He won handily, 58%-42%.
After the election, Barbour immediately faced an unexpected issue when Republican Sen. Trent Lott announced in November 2007 that he would resign at the end of the year. Barbour said he would name an interim successor and he set the special election for the remaining four years of Lott’s term for the day of the regularly scheduled general election in November 2008. He appointed U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, a Republican, to fill the vacancy until then. But Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood argued that state law required an election within 100 days of Lott’s resignation, and he sued to have the election held earlier. Democrats may have been betting they would have a better chance of winning the Senate seat in a low-turnout special election that would attract party activists rather than a more widely attended general election. A state court ruled in Hood’s favor in January, but the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Barbour 7-2 in February 2008.
Opening his second term, Barbour said in his inaugural speech, “Much of the state has the strongest economy and highest employment ever, but some areas are suffering, especially in the Delta and southwest Mississippi, where we must not only improve education and workforce skills, but also combat and reduce the scourge of illegitimacy.” In 2008 he got full funding of the Mississippi Adequate Education Program for the first time in a non-election year. On other issues, Barbour supported a bill to require employers to use the eVerify system to determine the immigration status of employees. In July 2008, he was criticized for suspending the life sentence of a man convicted of murdering his wife; the convict had been working as a trusty in the Governor’s Mansion. (Mississippi seems to be one of the last states to retain the curious practice of staffing the governor’s residence with convicts.)
In 2008, gambling revenues were down, and overall revenues came in 9% under projections at the end of the year. Barbour demanded that legislators change the Medicaid law to eliminate a $90 million shortfall, and said he would make cuts in the program if they didn’t. He trimmed the overall state budget by $42 million in November and in January promised more budget cuts, including in education programs. Barbour at first said he might not accept federal government’s economic stimulus money, but as the budget problems worsened, he announced in March 2009 he would accept all but $50 million of the $2.3 billion for Mississippi. He also signed a bill for a 30% sales-tax rebate for casino developers who build golf courses, hotels, convention facilities, and other nongambling attractions worth at least $10 million.
After the national Republican Party’s poor showing at the polls in 2008, Barbour said, “There are a lot of good questions Republicans need to ask themselves…. The fact of the matter is, we brought a lot of this on ourselves, a lot of it by not being faithful to what we told people that we believed in and not adhering to what people thought they had voted for.” Asked whether he might run for president in 2012, Barbour declined to answer, saying that speculation about the election was premature and not helpful to the party’s efforts to rebuild.