Governor Looks Back and Then Ahead (to Making More Money)By Sandra Knispel | Published 13 Oct 2011 09:02am |
When Governor Haley Barbour’s second term comes to an end on January 10th one thing is certain: he won’t be twiddling his thumbs. MPB’s Sandra Knispel has more on Governor Barbour’s legacy and his plans for the future.
“Max Mayfield called, head of the National Hurricane Center. He said, ‘Governor, this is going to be a Camille-like event. What can I do to help?’," Barbour recalled.
Haley Barbour’s legacy as Mississippi’s 63rd governor will always be closely intertwined with the worst natural disaster to hit the United States.
“So I said, ‘If you can get the news media to start calling it a Hurricane like Camille it’ll make a big difference.’ And I promise you within an hour, the cable news networks were referring to Katrina being like Camille. And that really helped us in the end, getting people off the coast.”
His administration had its work cut out when Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in 2005.
“I feel like here is the greatest challenge you’re gonna ever have to deal with, because when you saw it you knew it was going to be years before we could get back to some semblance of normal, which we have by the way.
In the audience at the Overby Center for Southern Journalism and Politics at the University of Mississippi last night, Barbour seemed to have very few critics. Jacksonian Bubba Weir who works for the Mississippi Technology Alliance was singing the governor’s praises.
“I think the governor is such a statesman. And the way he handled situations like Katrina and the flooding and the way he portrayed Mississippians.. been able to pull us up by our boot straps and not try to have our hands out for a handout from the government. I think that will be his legacy for generations of Mississippians. They need to look back and realize that he was a great statesman.”
Of course, Barbour did secure some $24 billion in federal assistance after Katrina. Ask him what he’s most proud of and he’ll tell you about economic development projects … an area where he’s not shy about taking credit.
“We’re in the midst of rebuilding the port of Gulfport, which will be, in my opinion, 25 years from now when these guys sitting in the front look back and think about the Barbour administration. My belief is they will say, ‘The redevelopment of the port of Gulfport was the most important economic development project in the history of the Mississippi. That held the most potential and produced the greatest amount of economic growth, prosperity and vitality, because it’ll keep on growing.”
Another audience member, Tim Climer, who is a University of Mississippi senior project administrator for economic development, says Barbour’s legacy has economy written all over it.
“The Toyotas and the emerging high-tech industries that they brought in with solar and the other industries, especially in north Mississippi and then a lot of the Kiors, and the port of Gulfport. I think we have demonstrated statewide that job creation and keeping your eyes on the prize have been very important in that Mississippi can be competitive with anybody.”
Of course, a two-term limit is prohibiting Barbour from appearing again on the ballot this November. Otherwise, with approval ratings in the 70 percent range he would have been impossible to beat.
“Term limits for governor are a good idea. Eight is enough," Barbour said. "I wouldn’t give anything for this. But Marsha thinks it’s time for me to go back to work for money. She thinks that’s an interesting concept. That, you know, we need to make a little money after eight years as a public employee. I do get the nicest public housing in the state. But you don’t make much money doing this.”
But not to worry, with a book on Katrina in the works, and ready to hit the speaking circuit the governor will be commanding a high salary before long.
"I wouldn't give anything for it, as I said a little while ago. But I hope this is my last government job. I used to tell Trent [Lott], 'The diffrence between goverbors and senators is that senators talk about doing things and governors do things.' I don't think there's a better job, except president. So this is what I'd like to have as my last government job."
One thing is certain: As Barbour is preparing his farewell from public office he’s leaving behind one large pair of shoes to fill.
Sandra Knispel, MPB News, Oxford.
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