Back in 2003, during the Mississippi governor’s race, I was working for the state’s second largest employer, Howard Industries. One morning, I had a big group coming in for meetings with my boss. It was already hectic as there were a lot of moving parts in getting it coordinated and when Security called me and said there was a problem, I immediately went into the lobby to see what the brouhaha was about. Turns out, then-Governor Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, was making a campaign stop. I walked to the receptionist’s desk to see what she knew. There were a few people standing around, but none were paying attention to me (or so I thought). When she told me that the governor was making a campaign stop, I said, “Oh, hell. Seriously? Clearly someone forgot to tell him he’s a has-been”. This look came across her face and by the time I’d made it back to my office, she was calling to tell me one of the women standing around was the governor’s campaign manager. I was aggravated enough already and so I said, “You should’ve told me that. I’ve been wondering if they made it to the coast for a campaign stop at Ingalls. I’d like to know how he survived that one!” Ingalls Shipbuilding (now Northrop Grumman) was the state’s largest employer and Democrats weren’t having much success when it came to Naval shipyards. I know this because I was employed by Ingalls during the Clinton Administration.
Haley Barbour Takes Office
So, when Haley Barbour beat Ronnie Musgrove, he became only the second Republican governor to represent Mississippi in many years. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, he’d been in office for only a year and half, but his way of handling the historic crisis was quite impressive. I was proud to say I’d voted for him. He made the tough calls, including decisions to not accept certain federal monies for rebuilding the state. Many didn’t understand that with those federal dollars came big tradeoffs. Ultimately, because of his in-depth understanding of how the federal game works, he was able to secure more than $25 billion in federal money that didn’t require unacceptable political compromises in the process. Because of his hardline approach, he truly made big differences in how the state rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina.
Impressive Strides by Barbour
Barbour accomplished many good things for our state. He remains the only governor to have balanced his state’s budget in his first year with no new taxes or as he called it at the time, “funny money”. He made great strides for women and minority owned businesses in the state and he played a pivotal role in reducing the red tape for larger corporations wishing to do business in our state. An impressive record, by any standards.
The Stupidity in Some Decisions
What really boggles the mind, though, was what he did as he was leaving office. He (and for reasons most of us still don’t understand) granted pardons to more than 200 convicted felons, some of which were convicted killers and many of whom went missing as soon as they were released. It was ridiculously stupid to do so, especially since he touted his “Christian beliefs” (and that’s another story) as his justification. There was absolutely no warning made to the victims of these criminals. It remains as controversial today as it was then. That, and his choices as one of the biggest lobbyists in Washington, has sullied his otherwise impressive political record. This week, he added to that tarnished reputation.
Cochran’s Threat: Chris McDaniel
There’s a heated debate going on in the Mississippi GOP primary race between Senator Thad Cochran and state Senator Chris McDaniel. The big controversy right now (and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better – which might be a good thing) is focused on Hurricane Katrina relief funds and whether McDaniel would have supported any kind of legislation that included $10 billion in aid to the state after the hurricane. McDaniel paused briefly. It wasn’t a classic “political pause” where a candidate is wondering what the right answer is, it was more of a pause that allowed him to carefully consider his words to keep the debate clean (as one person said, “Cause you know it ain’t gonna stay clean for much longer”).
McDaniel no doubt was considering the careful path laid by Barbour and his healthy dose of caution regarding federal funds when he was the one in that position. Barbour didn’t want to accept the money with a lot of political strings attached. At the time, Mississippians provided their governor a bit of leeway and as a result, they benefited from his caution. Now, suddenly, both Haley Barbour and McDaniel’s opponent, Thad Cochran have jumped on his “pause” and have begun accusing McDaniel of not caring about the voters. It’s hypocritical – it is exactly what Haley Barbour did – he paused in 2005. Yet, now that another candidate – in the same party, I might add, is showing a bit of restraint, it’s a curse that’s sure to knock Mississippi on its Magnolia-scented butt.
Hypocrisy in Politcs? Never!
Barbour clearly supports Cochran, and that’s fine. But what Cochran said after McDaniel’s cautious reply speaks volumes to those of us who know what happened. He told the press on Thursday:
Natural disasters can strike at any moment, and it is critical that Mississippians can count on their elected representatives to help them in times of crisis. Our delegation worked together in a bipartisan manner to make sure Katrina relief legislation was passed. As I look at how local and state officials have used this money, I am proud of what we did.
Yes, sir you should be proud. You should be proud because your supporter and our former governor ensured there would be no repercussions nearly a decade later than would have us anchored to some unrealistic and unneeded federal program, courtesy of our now-president.
Yet that same then-governor and current senator are trying to turn what they did then into something seedy in current day.
I have only one question for Senator Cochran: Don’t you know you’re a has-been?