Haley Barbour: A Force From the South

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Don’t let Haley Barbour fool you. 

Though he may refer to himself as “a fat redneck,” though he’s got a charming Mississippi country-boy drawl, though his white hair, apple cheeks and twinkly eyes may make you think of Santa Claus, the man is a perspicacious politician. Barbour spent Presidents Day in Iowa, meeting with state Republican Party officials and lawmakers in the state that serves as the presidential election starting gate.

Barbour has served as Governor of Mississippi since winning election in 2003. He was reelected in 2007 and prior to that served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997. In 2009, Barbour was elected the chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

He has called the midterm elections a referendum on Obama and Democratic policies. He has said of the Obama presidency “There’s never been a time in American political history, go back to the 1790’s, where you have seen the government policy move so far and so fast to the left.” He has publicly floated a theory that the recall of Toyota vehicles due to sticky gas pedals was a Democratic strategy to hurt Toyota and thus bolster sales for car manufacturers who received bail-out money. He says what he thinks. 

Barbour remained relentlessly cheery in the face of the BP oil spill devastation in the Gulf, inviting people to come and visit. “Come on down here and play golf, enjoy the beach, catch a fish and pay a little sales tax while you’re here.” 

He famously compared the oil from the leak to toothpaste, calling it  “weathered, emulsified, caramel-colored mousse, like the food mousse. Once it gets to this stage, it’s not poisonous. But if a small animal got coated enough with it, it could smother it. But if you got enough toothpaste on you, you couldn’t breathe.” Of course, the oil and gas industry gave 1.8 million to his campaign for governor of Mississippi, and he wants no part of a moratorium on shallow-water drilling

Barbour is both charming and shrewd, with impressive ability to stay on message with a wink. Asked if Sarah Palin is qualified to serve as president of the United States, he replied "Well, constitutionally she sure is!" 

But Barbour has made some major blunders, including his defense of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's omission of slavery from his "Confederate History Month" proclamation, which Barbour said was not insensitive. “To me, it’s a sort of feeling that it’s a nit; that it is not significant, it’s trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn’t amount to diddly.” 

He also caught heat for an interview in The Weekly Standard magazine, in which Barbour portrayed the Citizen’s Councils during the Civil Rights Movement as simply “an organization of town leaders”, and responded to a question about growing up in Mississippi in the sixties by telling the interviewer "I just don't remember it as being that bad.” 

Barbour has defended his record on civil rights. "If you look at my record and you look at the fact that after I was elected, we have had more minority business contracts. We have more African American elected officials in Mississippi than anywhere in the country. I've had outstanding African American members of my administration. You know, I'm proud of that record and I'll put it up."

On the other side of the aisle, conservatives have raised eyebrows for a different reason. In 2001, Barbour and his lobbying firm, Barbour Griffith & Rogers, worked for Mexico to extend Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 2001, a provision that critics referred to as "amnesty” because it would allow citizenship for certain undocumented workers in the United States if they paid a fine and acknowledged having broken the law. (Those were different times politically. Rep. Dick Armey, Rep. John Boehner, Rep. Tom DeLay, and Rep. David Dreier, all voted for the measure.)

Barbour does not deny that he lobbied for Mexico, but says he does not support amnesty. Last year, Barbour stood by the workers who had come to Mississippi to help rebuild post-Katrina, saying “I don't know where we would have been in Mississippi after Katrina if it hadn't been with the Spanish speakers that came in to help rebuild. And there's no doubt in my mind some of them were here illegally.”

He has also said of student’s receiving Ph.D.'s in the United States, that “we ought to stamp citizenship on his diploma."

Here he is talking to the conservative Hoover Institution in 2010:


Here is Mr. Barbour on the issues:

Taxing and spending:

Barbour likes to talk about how he cut the biggest entitlement program in Mississippi.

“We have saved in Medicaid hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of my time as governor. That would be hundreds of billions of dollars if you applied the same reforms to the federal government.”

The libertarian Cato Institute gave Barbour a "C" on its fiscal scorecard, saying his tax and spending record over seven years as governor has not been very conservative. The scorecard notes that Barbour has proposed some small tax breaks and blocked some tax increases proposed by the legislature, but he has not pushed other changes like marginal tax rate cuts, and that he reinstated a tax on hospitals, increased taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents a pack and grew spending by 43 percent during his first term.

He doesn't think the current administration is on the right track. "People here at home are focused on jobs and the economy and concerned about all this spending and debt that's being run up. People know that you can't spend yourself rich, and they know that the country can't do it either."

Campaign Finance:

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington makes a list of CREW’s Worst Governors, ranking the governors most guilty of violating ethics, campaign finance, personal financial disclosure rules, and state transparency laws. Barbour tops the list. A Washington Post investigation found that while Barbour was chairman of the Republican National Committee, the committee funneled millions in foreign contributions from a Hong Kong businessman into state Republican parties and other GOP organizations in 1994, just before the elections. Barbour has called these allegations "goofy."

Health care reform:

"It's going to drive up the cost of health insurance, cut Medicaid spending half a trillion dollars, raise taxes, and people back at home were saying 'why aren't they focused on jobs?'"

Public Worker Unions in Wisconsin:

Tweets Barbour "@GovWalker is showing the leadership it takes to turn our country around. He's standing with taxpayers & keeping his word."

Gay Marriage:

Barbour tweets: "Marriage is between one man and one woman. The President took an oath to uphold the Constitution & needs to defend our laws, including DOMA."


Barbour got big applause at CPAC for saying that, during his time as governor, Mississippi had become "the safest state in America for an unborn child."


Asked about the plan by an anti-Muslim extremist to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11, Barbour said “I do not think well of the idea of burning anybody’s Koran, or Bible, or Book of Mormon or anything else.” Pressed further about Republicans trying to use the incident to whip up anti-Muslim sentiment as a political tactic during the midterm campaigns, he said ”I don’t see it. But I will tell you this. Any issue that takes people’s eye off unemployment, job creation, economic growth, taxes, spending, deficits, debts, is taking your eye off the ball.”

Religion Part 2 - the Park51 mosque:

"I think it is an awful thing. I think it is a deliberate attempt to stick a finger in people’s eye.”

Religion Part 3 - Why people continue to think that Obama is a Muslim:

Barbour says he doesn't believe there's a "vast right-wing conspiracy" to misrepresent President Barack Obama's religious past, but that there's simply little known about him. “I don’t know why people think what they think… This is a president that we know less about than any other president in history. [But] I accept just totally at face value that he is a Christian. He said so throughout the time he has been in public life. That's good enough for me."

Foreign Policy:

At CPAC, Barbour stayed mum on his foreign policy views. He supports the U.S. policy of providing aid to Israel at an annual cost of roughly $3 billion a year, and following discovery oil and gas deposits off Israel's coast, welcomed Israel to the "offshore oil and gas club".

On Michele Obama:

"She’s a gracious, attractive, very bright lady."