Why did our state elect Haley Barbour?

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

For all the controversy that has come his way, Gov. Haley Barbour this week is showing why Mississippi voters chose him as governor. Sen. Thad Cochran said it best: &8220;He may be the best known Republican in the U.S. who’s not a candidate for president.&8221;

Barbour has been attacked mostly for his push to remove 65,000 Mississippians as Medicaid recipients in a state overhaul of the costly program. While Democrats and Republicans alike backed the measure in the Legislature, Democrats have succeeded at tying the albatross around Barbour’s neck.

So far, he has gladly worn it, standing firm that the plan will work and that the federal government will provide Medicare waivers to pick up the displaced Mississippians.

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Those waivers have yet to materialize, though Barbour remains confident. Perhaps, this week’s festivities point to why Barbour is so certain. They certainly point to why he was elected.

Barbour touted his ties to the Republican Party on the national level, given his history as a GOP rain-maker. The thought process was simple: Mississippi needs a governor who can get help from above, and we ain’t talking about just Heaven.

The Medicaid issue is the first real test of this. If the waivers come through, Barbour’s plan worked, and he can move forward with his agenda. If the waivers stall and Barbour has to delay his move, the state Democratic Party will continue to feast on Barbour well into the next legislative session.

Still, Barbour’s deep GOP roots can most likely pay dividends to the state. He can easily stand in the light of his national party and proudly proclaim their platform as his own. State Democrats have a much harder time doing that.

Furthermore, Barbour is actually helping to shape that platform. He is chairing the subcommittee dealing with abortion and same-sex marriage. That committee has come out with the consistent stance of being pro-life, and they added surprisingly tough language to the same-sex marriage issue. Not only did they reaffirm the Republican idea of marriage being the union between a man and a woman, Barbour’s subcommittee is pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions, the latter seen as a scapegoat route to appease more centrist and liberal Republican voters.

When Barbour returns to the state, he can stand on that platform and proclaim he is honored to still be in the thick of his national party. Did anyone hear state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Dowdy standing on his national party’s social agenda platform? Of course not.

The fact is simple when it comes to Barbour: he has star power on a national level, and that only means good things for Mississippi. It’s the same concept of Democrats supporting Cochran, who next year will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee. Mississippi Democrats would be certifiably insane to try and unseat Cochran on the eve of such a crucial chairmanship.

But Barbour will face stiff opposition if Democrats can find someone with enough stature to take him on. That person will deal with the same problems former Gov. Ronnie Musgrove faced, trying to defeat a man who is a political heavyweight in every sense of the idea.

So Barbour, with his national appeal and connections, can continue to take risky measures, so long as he delivers. And in the meantime, he will continue to focus on his pet project-economic development in the state.

And in the end, when election year rolls around again, he can once again ride his national star and tout his credentials, this time with a record upon which to run.

Sam R. Hall

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