Graphic: The Coal Lobby’s Fight for Survival

National Journal
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June 28, 2013, 1:37 p.m.

MS Gov. Haley Bar­bour (R) is an ex-lob­by­ist, RNC chair, WH pol. dir. “and a fa­mil­i­ar enough piece” of the nat’l pol. “fur­niture to be known simply as ‘Haley’” with­in cer­tain DC circles.

“Now, for the second time in five years,” Bar­bour “finds him­self in a highly vis­ible role dur­ing a Gulf Coast cata­strophe. As he nears the end of his eight-year stint” as gov., Bar­bour’s “per­form­ance could help shift his polit­ic­al im­age from that of an in­sider party boss to an out-front crisis” mgr. — and pos­sible WH can­did­ate in ‘12.

Bar­bour, 62, “is proof that if you hang around long enough, even a good old boy lob­by­ist and polit­ic­al party an­im­al can come back in­to fash­ion — or at least be re­cast by cir­cum­stance. A self-de­scribed ‘fat red­neck,’ he speaks in a marble-mouthed” MS “drawl, loves Maker’s Mark bour­bon, re­sembles an adult ver­sion of Spanky from the Little Ras­cals and fits no one’s ideal of a sleek new polit­ic­al mod­el: squat, big-bel­lied and pink-jowled, he looks as if he should have a ci­gar in his mouth at all times (and oc­ca­sion­ally does).”

Bar­bour, one of the few pols “whose stand­ing was en­hanced by his re­sponse to Hur­ricane Kat­rina, has eagerly taken on the post of de facto dir­ect­or of tour­ism for the Gulf Coast, a task only slightly less daunt­ing or thank­less than head­ing” a PR cam­paign for BP. “He has com­plained bit­terly about what he calls the news me­dia’s ex­ag­ger­a­tions and dis­tor­tions about the spill.” Bar­bour: “I’ve heard re­ports that this would be a threat to Europe. … That’s about the same as say­ing I’m go­ing to grow wings and take flight.”

Un­like his coun­ter­part in LA, Gov. Bobby Jin­dal (R), Bar­bour “has mostly been spared the day-to-day in­cur­sion of oil along his state’s shores. That has al­lowed him to pro­mote his bona fides on pop­u­lar” GOP causes (“he re­mains en­thu­si­ast­ic about off­shore drilling, an im­port­ant source of jobs in his state) and bo­gey­men” (WH-backed “cap and trade” en­ergy policies). Bar­bour “has been gen­er­ally muted in his cri­ti­cism of BP and was among the first” GOP­ers to ob­ject to the Obama ad­min.’s in­sist­ence on a $20B BP es­crow ac­count to settle dam­age claims. “He has also warned against ef­forts by the left to turn the spill in­to a reg­u­lat­ory cause célèbre.” Bar­bour: “A bunch of lib­er­al elites were hop­ing this would be the Three Mile Is­land of off­shore drilling.”

His “up­beat at­ti­tude about the spill re­flects the happy-go-Haley per­sona that he ad­op­ted from his polit­ic­al idol” and ex-boss, Ron­ald Re­agan. But his views have drawn cri­ti­cism from loc­al Dems, “as­sor­ted blog­gers and late-night comedi­ans, even in­spir­ing ri­dicule in a Web video jux­ta­pos­ing his beach-pro­mot­ing state­ments with those of the may­or in the movie ‘Jaws,’ who urged tour­ists to en­joy shark-in­fes­ted wa­ters.” MS state Rep. Di­ane Per­anich (D): “I ap­pre­ci­ate him pro­mot­ing tour­ism, but not to the det­ri­ment of real­ity.”

Bar­bour “ex­udes a throw­back vibe hark­ing to a time when politi­cians were un­afraid to call them­selves ‘politi­cians’ and could ac­tu­ally ad­mit to be­ing well-con­nec­ted in­siders who know people” in DC, “tell the oc­ca­sion­al dirty joke and sip a cock­tail or three after hours.” MSU prof. Mar­tin Wise­man: “Haley is on a neck-hug­ging basis with more people in polit­ics than you will ever see” (Leibovich, New York Times, 6/19).

Let’s Make A Good, Fair Deal

Bar­bour was on “Meet the Press” 6/20.

Bar­bour, on how the gov’t has handled the oil spill: “As I’ve said be­fore and said to the Pres­id­ent, I think the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s done more right than wrong. I thought ap­point­ing Ken Fein­berg, who’s got a great repu­ta­tion that’s well-de­served is good for BP and good for the gov­ern­ment.”

More Bar­bour, on Pres. Obama‘s prom­ise that the Gulf will be in bet­ter shape after the cleanup: “The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment can’t do that. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment can’t dic­tate that to the Gulf Coast, to Mis­sis­sippi or Louisi­ana or Flor­ida or Alabama. Those kind of de­cisions about how to re­build are de­cisions for the loc­al people. … And the gov­ern­ment has talked like and I be­lieve from this Mavis Com­mis­sion (PH) that they’re gonna try to put in some— ad­di­tion­al re­sources. But the loc­al people gotta make the de­cisions about re­cov­ery.”

More Bar­bour, on the es­crow fund: “Well, I thought that they were talk­ing about tak­ing $20B from BP all at once. And my fear was if you took $20B from them all at once, put it in an es­crow ac­count, then they wouldn’t have the work­ing cap­it­al to gen­er­ate the rev­en­ue to pay us. I think the Pres­id­ent was smart. And I con­grat­u­late him and BP that they reached an agree­ment in­stead of $20B taken out of that work­ing cap­it­al all at once, it’s ac­tu­ally gonna be $5B this year, $5B the next year, $5B the fol­low­ing year, and $5B the fourth year.”

More Bar­bour, on his mes­sage to the GOP: “My mes­sage al­ways is, ‘Look, tell the truth. You know, put the truth out. Let’s let the pub­lic de­cide.’ The pub­lic’s de­cision right now is pretty bad for the Pres­id­ent. But that— I’m not gonna pile on, as you’ve seen by the last 30 or 45 minutes of us talk­ing.”

Bar­bour, on his mes­sage to the GOP: “My mes­sage al­ways is, ‘Look, tell the truth. You know, put the truth out. Let’s let the pub­lic de­cide.’ The pub­lic’s de­cision right now is pretty bad for the Pres­id­ent. But that— I’m not gonna pile on, as you’ve seen by the last 30 or 45 minutes of us talk­ing.”

More Bar­bour, on wheth­er Rep. Joe Bar­ton (R-TX) was right: “Well, I don’t think what he said was ac­cur­ate. Be­cause I think the way this worked out was it was di­vid­ing it up in­to $5B a year, in­stead of one $20B — lump sum. I think ac­tu­ally is a fair, good deal for every­body” (NBC, 6/20).

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