Haley Barbour Would Have Been One Heckuva President
Around the State
The Mississippi governor is on his way out. Or so you would think. Not only do term limits spring the trap on his two terms in the governor's mansion, they close out a political career that spans more than 43 years -- virtually every one of them colorful or challenging or heavyweight in some regard.
Barbour, 64, says he's done with public office in 2012.
I believe conservative America will miss him tremendously. I know Mississippi, where he currently enjoys an unprecendented 72 percent approval rating, will feel his departure acutely. And so will GOP leadership across the board -- Barbour is among the party's most prolific fundraisers and has raised millions upon millions of dollars for the Republican National Committee and the Republican Governors Association.
Haley Barbour is one of those guys you can close your eyes and picture as president of the United States -- maybe even as a great president of the United States. What you can't do is picture him getting there.
He's too deep South. He's had too many civil rights gaffes. Too much reference to him as
"one of Washington's all-time mega-lobbyists" -- a phrase that strikes a particularly sour note among the tea-party faithful. In truth, he was right to drop out of the presidential race on April 25, when he did.
But never have I seen a leader -- with the possible exception of former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- show a greater ability to rise to historically trying times. Where Giuliani was a one-trick pony with 9/11, Republican Barbour had more to show for than heroics after Hurricane Katrina. For eight years, he was like a 60 mph bowling ball, rattling noisily around in a lane of Democratic pins. And mowing them down, too. Barbour was outnumbered, never outmaneuvered.
The bottom line is, as Mississippi governor, Barbour has wielded pure, undiluted power in the state Legislature. Said one highly placed Barbour observer, "Everybody is scared to vote against him." Democrats, meanwhile, have never mustered enough votes to override a single one of his vetoes.
Compare leadership Haley Barbour-style to leadership Barack Obama-style and tell me Barbour couldn't pull off a miracle or two in the Oval Office.
The man from Mississippi knows how to get it done. He sets himself up for success. When he wants something from the Mississippi Legislature, he floods the Capitol halls with his staff. He spends all day on the day of the vote -- longer if necessary -- walking the floors of the chambers, as he did when lawmakers struggled to pass a $422.9 million jobs-creating bond bill during the regular session. As always, the governor ruled the day. House Democrats folded when Barbour threatened to veto one of their pet bills.
Washington might get this kind of dynamism after the 2012 election, but they won't now get it from Haley Barbour.
Before he was elected governor, Barbour had what was called "a long career on the national stage" and has been well-known as a Republican operative since the Reagan years.
He worked as a lawyer and lobbyist, was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate and also served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997. It was during that time that the Republicans captured both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House for the first time since 1954. On June 24, 2009, he was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association, following the resignation of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.
Heading toward 2012, if Haley Barbour were any further away from a lame duck, he would be standing in the middle of the Mojave Desert.
Barbour just pushed a $175 million incentive package to lure two technology companies to the state and he's taken on the Public Employees Retirement System, creating a commission to study "the long-term feasibility of the state pension program" -- his way of saying, I'm going to look at privatizing this behemoth in the year I've got left.
Barbour announced recently he will tour the state this fall, making speeches that tout his achievements during the last eight years -- but also lay out the "things that are still left to do."
He is challenging the next governor.
In the Florida Senate race Barbour, who calls himself "a staunch conservative," came out in support of GOP candidate George LeMieux. Ana Nix, press secretary for LeMieux, reiterated Friday, "As you can imagine, we were thrilled to death to have Gov. Barbour's endorsement."
I'll just bet they were.
Speaking personally, I wouldn't have minded watching a President Haley Barbour, the old master, doing what he does best -- stomping through the halls of the Capitol looking for votes and shattering a deadlocked Congress.
Ain't gonna happen, as they say, but it sure would have been fun.
This is an opinion column: Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.