Mr. Washington Comes To Mississippi | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mr. Washington Comes To Mississippi

Photos by Jaro Vacek and Roy Adkins

When Democrats speak of Gov. Haley Barbour, it's usually either with some degree of admiration or a great deal of venom.

"There hasn't been a more divisive figure in Mississippi politics since I've been in the House. Barbour brought Washington-style politics to a state that was never meant to have it," said House Speaker Billy McCoy during the last legislative session.

McCoy's statement, while critical, did not convey the true bitterness shaking him at the time of the quote. Barbour's far-reaching influence had purportedly squelched a flurry of progressive bills the House had attempted to pass at the beginning of the 2007 session. A united front of largely Republican House members stomped the House rule change that would have allowed the bills to come up for a vote.

It is perhaps Barbour's political muscle more than anything that both infuriates Democrats and thrills Republicans, and allows him to get away with calling special session after special session to get his way in the Capitol. Barbour is a powerful revenant of Washington dominance come back home to Mississippi to build a final bastion for Rep. Newt Gingrich's Contract with America and to resurrect a version of Sen. Tom Delay's K-Street Project to establish Republican dominance.

In the current elections, Barbour is focusing not only on winning his race against Democratic challenger John Eaves—who is drawing a surprising amount of negative attention from an assumed shoe-in incumbent—but on defeating legislators like Rep. Cecil Brown of Jackson, who is popular with voters from both parties. Barbour's take-no-prisoners political training doesn't allow for a whole lot of compromise, though—it's Republican loyalty or the highway.

A Quick Learner
The third child of Grace LeFlore Johnson and Jeptha Fowlkes Barbour Jr., Haley Barbour moved into politics early in his life. At 21, Barbour skipped the first semester of his senior year at Ole Miss to be a field worker for Richard Nixon's 1968 bid for the presidency—the one that would ultimately end with articles of impeachment and an embarrassing resignation. Nixon's tenure also debuted a new southern race strategy that would help the GOP wrest anti-integration southern Dixiecrats from the Democratic Party for decades to come.

In 1976, Barbour was an early supporter of presidential candidate Ronald Reagan. Barbour saw something in Reagan that the national party did not and had to swallow a loss against then-President Gerald Ford.

In 1982, Barbour took his first personal dip into politics and ran against longtime Democratic Mississippi Sen. John C. Stennis, portraying the aging Democrat as past his prime in a political move that cost Barbour some public support. He suffered a severe loss despite his outspending Stennis by more than $100,000 that year.

Despite early failures, though, Barbour—who turned 60 last week—cut his teeth in the national GOP scene at a time when the party was in the fledgling stages of re-defining itself as a corporate enabler, bolstered by religious conservatism and lingering white resentment over federal civil-rights legislation.

Barbour worked as the political director for President Ronald Reagan before starting his own lobbying firm in 1991. The firm, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, would prove a lynchpin in blurring the line between lobbyists and the Republican Party during the era of the K Street Project in Washington—the effort of Barbour, Tom Delay and other conservative stalwarts to get lobbying firms to hire only Republicans.

With the vapor-thin veil between government and monied interests quickly dissolving, the cash flowed like dirty water in a sewer. Barbour, himself, seems to have to have gotten confused as to where the ethical line was supposed to be drawn.

In 1994, the year after he became chairman of the Republican National Committee, Barbour helped channel a $2.1 million loan from a foreign businessman to a GOP funding group, a move that raised ethical issues and painted the Republican Party as for sale to foreign interests. A federal grand jury deliberated over the matter before labeling it as not criminal. Then the RNC, under Barbour, gave almost $5 million directly to Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. The move would have likely earned him a rap as a campaign-finance violator had the Republican-controlled Senate not squelched the inquiry.

Also, in 1997, Barbour—by then an established tobacco lobbyist whose firm Barbour, Griffith & Rogers took in almost $4 million in contributions from tobacco companies and who put more than $12 million into Republican campaign coffers in the 1990s—convinced his buddies Newt Gingrich and Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott to sneak in a $50 billion tax credit for tobacco companies. Legislators were both outraged and embarrassed at such a shameless giveaway.

"Big business doesn't have a party," proclaimed Barbour, the Republican National Chairman, to The New York Times in 1995. But they did, obviously, have a lobbyist.

"You had an era there after 1994, and definitely in 2000, where you had complete Republican rule, and they rolled back regulatory actions, whether it was environmental or labor related, and you had a permanent change in those laws. If Democrats are elected next year with a significant margin in the Senate and House, and a Democrat administration takes the White House, it'll still take years to put our regulations back where they were," said Rich Masters, formerly the media spokesman for Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, who took her U.S. Senate seat in 1996.

Masters said Barbour was, for a time, one of the few access points for the Republican majority in the House, Senate and White House—a very powerful position.

"For a time there, he was K Street," said Masters. "He was the guy. His firm was paramount under the Republican rule of the 1990s. He was a Republican player at a time when it didn't mean a lot, but then when the Republican power base exploded he was there to take advantage of it."

Barbour did not return calls for this story.

Home, Divided Home
Barbour's success in Washington spilled back into his home state. Unlike the rest of the country, Barbour had the advantage in Mississippi of a new emerging population of frustrated whites, disillusioned with the minorities' embrace of Mississippi Democratic Party's embrace by minorities. These whites had regularly referred themselves as "Mississippi Democrats," as opposed to "Democrats," conveying a rift in party philosophies, particularly regarding integration.

Barbour learned a thing or two while working with Nixon in the 1960s: Nixon's southern strategy had promise. It worked for Reagan when he came to Mississippi's Neshoba County Fair, propping up "state's rights"—the nationally recognized code phrase in the 1960s and 1970s for the rejection of federal civil-rights legislation. The Neshoba County Fair is just down the road from the final resting place of three civil rights workers who were killed for trying to register blacks to vote.

Mississippi's inhabitants, to this day, remain largely segregated from their first few days of existence to their final, dismal punt into the realm of Alzheimer's. It is a state where the school-age population tends to swing either white or black, with extreme minorities in both cases. Its capitol city's public-school system is 98 percent black. Its adult population in Jackson has been in a constant retreat from itself, with a majority black city center surrounded by white suburbs, with shifting, temporary demographics that can flip completely within 20 years. Many senior-citizen homes in the city with majority-black residents accept federal and state-funded health care. Many of the senior-citizen homes, containing a majority-white population, accept no government funding at all—virtually locking the door on black seniors, who often retire poorer than whites.

Barbour knew what he was working with when he ran for governor in 2002. He had initially attempted to seduce the black vote early in his campaign for governor, but eventually embraced the Confederate creed, decrying the incumbent's stance on adopting a new state flag that would have done away with the stars and bars—the symbol of Jim Crow.

The Barbour campaign flaunted quotes such as, "They tried to take our flag," and cozied up to white supremacists.

Barbour took office with 52.59 percent of the vote in 2003. Former Mississippi Democrat Party Chairman Rickey Cole called the election the official sell-out of the governor's office. "It won't be easy to take the Washington out of Barbour," Cole told reporters in 2003 after the election results came in.

Spreadin' the Money
Cole had a point. The lingering taint of a corporate enabler followed the new governor all the way from Washington. As in Washington, Barbour was eager to fuse financial and government interests.

When Barbour became governor, his two nephews, Austin and Henry, acted quickly, joining local lobbying firm Capitol Resources. Together they bashed new doors into the walls of the governor's office.

An August 2007 Bloomberg News report revealed that a bond advisory firm in Jackson, Government Consultants Inc., got a huge lift from hiring Capitol Resources to represent its interests after Hurricane Katrina. Barbour put Henry over the state commission for hurricane recovery. Oddly, only Democrats seemed to shout when Capitol Resources landed almost two and a half million in state payouts for consultation services, almost half a million of that from hurricane recovery bonds. The firm paid $65,000 to Capitol Resources.

Other relatives got a run for the Katrina chuckwagon. Alcatec, LLC, got more than $28 million in FEMA contracts for post-Katrina work in 2005. Barbour denied that Alcatec's no-bid contract award to maintain FEMA trailers had anything to do with the fact that the owner of the company is Rosemary Barbour, the wife of Barbour's nephew Charles Barbour, who is now running for public service commissioner.

FBI agents raided the company in June, seizing computers and documents in an investigation for possible mail fraud. The Hattiesburg American also reported in May that the Labor Department was investigating Alcatec for allegedly stiffing employees out of overtime.

Barbour's old firm in Washington may still be benefiting from his name on the door, as well. The state Gaming Commission and the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division fell over itself last year to approve a liquor license for the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, approving their license in record time. But would the commission have worked as fast for a casino that had not contributed thousands to Barbour's lobbying partners Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith? New York-based Leucadia National Corp, which bought the Hard Rock Casino, contributed $80,000 apiece to each of Barbour's former partners.

Barbour's financial connections seem obvious. Allegedly to absolve himself of any conflicts of interest, Barbour broke his ties with BGR in 2004 upon assuming the governor's office. The governor put his company assets into a "blind trust," which receives a monthly stipend from BGR regardless of the firm's income. Barbour gets $300,000 a year from his profit-sharing plan with Barbour, Griffith & Rogers—the bulk of his income—though that information arrived to Mississippians via an anonymous document leaked to the Bloomberg reporter. Barbour's trust allows no oversight into the source of the money, even though other state politicians must report incomes over $2,500 in annual reports.

He also refuses to reveal his tax returns.

The Tobacco Connection
Opponents in the state Legislature say Barbour is still very much a lobbyist, and point out the correlation between his ties with tobacco companies and his behavior as governor.

"One can never completely remove the knowledge and bias you gain in your prior employment," said Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian. "I was a lobbyist for environmental causes before I was elected, so naturally I have a lot of knowledge in that area, and I continue to use that. It's impossible for Barbour to completely divorce himself from the work he's done in the past."

In many ways, the December 2006 ABC News headline says it all for Barbour: "Former Tobacco Lobbyist Turned Governor Kills Statewide Anti-tobacco Program."

Former Attorney General Mike Moore landed a windfall in 1997 that must have knocked Barbour off his Washington barstool when he caught wind of it. Moore secured a $4 billion settlement with the tobacco industry, to be paid in increments over the next 25 years, to cover the health costs the state racked up for decades of lung cancer and other tobacco-related illnesses.

The courts ordered $20 million in settlement disbursement to go into an anti-smoking program to discourage smoking among Mississippi teenagers. The resulting Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi successfully reduced smoking by 48 percent among public middle-school students (from 23 percent to 12 percent) and by 32 percent among high school students (from 32.5 percent to 22.1 percent) between 1999 and 2004.

Since it kills off many of its consumers, the tobacco industry is dependent upon addicting new consumers each year. As governor, Barbour has done his part to keep the supply line coming. Barbour complained that the program, which received funding directly from the courts, should have legislative approval, and sued to stop what he called unconstitutional payments.

Moore said he caved to Barbour's desires and went to the state Legislature, but to no avail. "I decided to give him what he wanted, so we went to the Legislature, and they passed a bill that would fund the Partnership within the (parameters) that he was looking for. It would go through the Legislature like he wanted, but then when the bill came before him (Barbour) decided he didn't like it. So what are his real motivations, you have to ask yourself," Moore said earlier this year.

When the Partnership-friendly Legislature passed HB 1115, a bill funding the program its full $20 million, Barbour vetoed it. Jackson County Chancery Court Judge Jaye Bradley reversed her own December 2000 decision earmarking the $20 million to the Partnership. In her reversal, Bradley explained that her first decision had been based on the "apparent agreement" between the state's legislative and executive branch that the money be allocated.

Legislators marveled that a judge could overturn her own decision because a governor, essentially, wanted her to.

Barbour doled out his influence through other means, according to Democrats. In fact, Barbour's Democratic opponent in this year's governor race made Barbour's conflicts of interest a cornerstone of his campaign. "This governor has opened his office to the special interests to the detriment of the people of Mississippi. His priorities are less about the people and more about his friends in Washington," Eaves told the JFP.

The tobacco lobbyist has hotly opposed a tax increase on cigarettes every year since becoming governor, despite the popularity of such a tax among Mississippians.

Barbour vowed to veto any tobacco increase tax bill that touched his desk, and stuck to his guns. He didn't have a chance to reject anything like that this past year, however, instead leaving the death to Senate puppets.

Senate Finance Chairman Tommy Robertson, R-Moss Point, killed a cigarette tax increase bill in his committee this year, so legislators would not have to cast an unpopular vote during the election year. In so doing, Robertson took one for the team, and got voted out in the Republican primary this year. But Barbour would see to it that his boy's future would still be bright thanks to lucrative business deals.

Rep. Jamie Franks, D-Mooreville, claimed Robertson, who had supported similar bills in past years, had his own reasons for killing the bill, which would have raised the cigarette tax to $1. Franks said Robertson and "two other Republican legislators" won a contract from the Mississippi Development Authority—governed by Barbour, who picks its members—to close Katrina relief grants in a coastal homeowner grants program.

"You have to wonder what changed his mind this time," Franks shouted to a crowd on the steps of the Capitol.

This year, the Mississippi Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint against Robertson, Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, and Rep. Jim Simpson, R-Gulfport, on whether the three legislators had violated laws in taking $1.2 million in MDA contracts. Robertson and Beckett had formed their company last June specifically to compete for the contract after it became evident that the federal grant money was on its way to Mississippi.

U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., warned that the appearance of cronyism would make getting future expenditures from the federal government more problematic. "People just don't like to see politicians doing business with themselves at the taxpayer's expense," Taylor said in March. "Quite frankly, I don't want to have to defend that, because I don't believe in it."

Robertson, at the time, refused to comment on the issue. "You have to consider where the accusation came from, and I'm not commenting on that," Robertson told the JFP, adding that the "State Ethics Commission has already ruled on this matter" and concluded that as "the end of it."


Partisan Cleansing
While Barbour may be eager to erase the lines between money and politics, he is eager to define it between Democrats and Republicans. As McCoy stated earlier, Barbour is nothing if not divisive.

Back in the 1990s, Barbour made a point to parade the Republican Party's willingness to exclusively dedicate itself to the corporate cause. Segregation seemed to come easy to the Mississippian, and he pushed his lobbying firm to virtually purge Democrats from both its employee dockets and its client list, a practice largely unheard of in Washington.

Masters described, firsthand, the Democratic cleansing in Washington.

"Barbour had a close ally in (U.S. Sen.) Tom Delay, (R-Texas,) who sent out the word of the K Street Project, in which they would purge all the lobbying firms and corporate government relations people, saying if you can hire a Democrat or Republican, you'd better go with the Republican or you won't have access to our office. To an amazing degree they strong-armed everybody in the special interest and government relations practice. It was a hard time for Democrats in the lobbying business at the time."

Washington has changed a little since then, due to numerous GOP scandals and the downfalls of key players, like Delay, who resigned in 2006 after a Travis County grand jury indicted him in 2005 for illegally channeling money from corporate donors to Republican candidates for the Texas House.

K Street's eradication of the line between money and government may be out of favor in Washington, but it's just now catching on in Mississippi.

A September New Republic article explains that Henry Barbour admitted early that his firm would dedicate itself to helping get Republicans elected "both nationally and at the state level." When Sen. Shannon Walley, R-Leakesville, switched from the Democratic Party earlier this year, his campaign immediately benefited from Republican donors and lobbyists, including Capitol Resources, New Republic reported.

State Democrats knew the risks. They bristled in 2005 at the possibility of Barbour using his fund-raising influence to fuel political opponents against them and moderate Republicans. Democrats were particularly bitter at Barbour's ducking out on a 2005 special session—which the governor called—to attend a political fund-raiser in Washington for "Haley's PAC." Democrats raged that the governor was shirking his responsibilities for no better reason than to fund their enemies' campaigns.

Barbour's office said the governor would not use Haley's PAC specifically to target legislators, though the political action committee did make disbursements to the Mississippi Republican Party and to Mississippi Supreme Court justice races, including the campaigns of Mike Randolph and Bill Waller. Both judges now occupy seats on the court and regularly side against plaintiff rulings in lower courts.

The new homogenous Republican front under Barbour causes serious problems for the less-orchestrated Democratic Party. The Dem Party in the Mississippi House, for example, is a club containing a wide variety of personalities, from veggie-eating peaceniks, to the Mississippi Legislative Black Caucus, to conservative-leaning Barbour-lites like Rep. Jeffrey Smith, D-Columbus.

The new Republican Party uses the Dems' diversity against it. Last month, the Republican Party united in an effort to unofficially back Smith in his race for the office of House Speaker. The GOP made an announcement that it would unite with "conservative Democrats" to oppose McCoy in the upcoming election for House speaker. Two members of the Black Caucus were rumored to have tentatively considered picking Smith in the election, though members of the Black Caucus appeared just as united as Republicans earlier this month and announced complete opposition to the election of Smith as speaker.

"If there was a possibility of any support from coalition members, there doesn't seem to be one now," said Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg. "Jeff is an honorable and nice guy, but he's just wrong on the record and wrong on the future of Mississippi. He has consistently voted wrong on anything that represents the future, such as fully funding education and the reduction of the grocery tax. He's been aligning himself as a Republican more so than as a Democrat, and we don't think he suits the state as speaker."

Unity under Barbour gives the party a kind of "hive mind," similar to fire ants, and as Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, once asked: "Who the hell likes fire ants?"

"Right now, you couldn't force me to (be a) Republican," Holland told the JFP. "If you're a Republican in the state of Mississippi under Barbour, you may as well hand over your (soul) because you don't get to vote your heart if your heart ain't the same as Haley's."

Barbour's machine approach is not limited to offering the occasional helping hand around election time. Barbour makes it clear that that same helping hand will happily help another if you don't tow the line. Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, said Barbour wields more influence upon House Republicans than he's ever witnessed in his seven years in the House.

"I don't know how he's pressuring members of his own party, but I do know that Barbour interacts with House Republicans regularly. They have their own laptops in the chamber, and they get messages from the governor's office on how to vote, and if they don't vote the way he wants them to, he has a tendency to call them into his office and talk to them about it," Brown said last week. "… There's independent thinking, but I wouldn't say they always vote their own way."

Welcome to the Mob
Some Republicans have admitted that Barbour doles out favor to those who obey, and makes clear to independent thinkers when they've crossed the governor. No Republican will comment on the record, however.

House members swap the tale of Barbour's dramatic cold shoulder to Rep. Jessica Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, as if passing gossip on a spurned lover. "(President) Bush was coming to the state, and Barbour was bringing the Republicans down to meet him," recounts Rep. Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian. "So here was Upshaw all dressed up in her pink outfit, telling people she'll miss committee meetings because she's got to attend this thing with the president, but then they tell her she can't go on the plane because she handled a bill that Barbour didn't like."

Upshaw did not return calls to the JFP.

The bill Upshaw handled was a House bill that would've allowed legislative oversight of $5 billion in community development block grant money allotted in response to Hurricane Katrina.

Barbour wanted no prying legislative eyes peering into the disbursement of the grants, however. He and his allies successfully fought against the bill, arguing that legislative oversight would've slowed the disbursements to a crawl. In its current form, the grants work solely under the auspices of the governor's Mississippi Development Authority.

MDA did not respond to inquiries regarding contract disbursements.

Some House Democrats point out that Barbour's circle of allies have only disbursed a few million of the original $5 billion allotted in the two years since Katrina hit.

Even Rep. Peranich still lives in a FEMA trailer.

Previous Comments

ID
82113
Comment

When I hear the name Haley, I think of the hell he and the Bush Administration have given this State and our Country. We have seen and have experienced enough. When I look at some of the Blacks who are now trying to do the last minute beating of the bushes to elect Barbour, I am really saddened. Isn't this the same Barbour who said that WOMEN were not qualified to do any of his jobs and if there are any, "THEY ARE R A A R" (rare)? Isn't this the same Barbour who said that he would rather see Headstart children "SIT ON A PAINO STOOL IN A BROTHEL IN NEW ORLEANS" than to fund Headstart? Isn't this the same Barbour who CUT MEDICAID AND FORCED MANY MISSISSIPPIANS OUT OF NURSING HOMES? Isn't this the same Barbour who pretends to be so concerned about MS post Katrina; however, he has only been interested in rebuilding casinos and a few restaurants while the masses live in KATRINA TRAILERS. Remember that many people have gotten ill secondary to the toxic levels of farmaldehyde in the Katrina Trailers. Some African-Americans who have access to media exposure are selling their political endorsements to the highest bidder. There is no concern for their fellows: Some of whome have suffered at the hands of those they have endorsed. Those persons are spineless quislings. The Governor has found far too many people who are willing to participate in VOLUNTARY SERVITUDE commonly known as POLITICAL SLAVERY. So, those who want to re-elect the current Governor will continue to exist in a Faustain nightmare!

Author
justjess
Date
2007-11-01T11:51:24-06:00
ID
82114
Comment

Great article, and great cover this week! I was already not going to vote for Barbour because of the Medicaid thing, but I didn't know that he had so many Republicans in his back pocket. If I were one of them, I think I'd rather resign that live my life free of independent thought.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2007-11-02T10:37:19-06:00
ID
82115
Comment

Boy, this article reads like voluntary white slavery. Oh not to forget the spineless blacks who have no influence to bring black votes along with them, and who sell themselves for money; now what is that called?.......oldest profession in the world!!! All you have to do is review Haley's years in Office and you will see what he thinks of Black Americans and Women; none given top admin posts, nor state and katrina contracts. No appointments that amounted to anything, just tokens. The more things stay the same, they REMAIN the same. I am excited about Tuesday Night. I feel the wind of change.

Author
onetwog
Date
2007-11-02T18:17:31-06:00
ID
82116
Comment

Thanks onetwog. This has been Barbour's legacy. It makes you wonder why there is any difficulty in supporting John Eaves. His Bible is absolutely no match for all of the negatives that have been said/done against women and his lack of support for many of the issues that effect MS and Mississippians. There are some Black who are being used as political prostitutes. When the PIMP can't use them anymore, they will be kicked to the curve.

Author
justjess
Date
2007-11-06T14:06:42-06:00
ID
82117
Comment

Yes, HISTORY does repeat itself: Many people never learn from HISTORY.

Author
justjess
Date
2007-11-06T14:08:23-06:00
ID
82118
Comment

This was a great article. Finally, someone willing to tell the truth about Barbour. Sadly, there's much more out there that most will never know about. Even sadder, most in this state wouldn't care if they did know.

Author
Katie P.
Date
2007-11-06T15:39:56-06:00
ID
82119
Comment

Don't give up on Mississippi, Katie. I believe most WOULD care. They just don't get the information they need about their elected officials because the media, and the political parties, are too busy playing mindless games.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2007-11-06T15:56:06-06:00

Like independent media outlets around the world, the Jackson Free Press works hard to produce important content on a limited budget. We'd love your help! Become a JFP VIP member today and/or donate to our journalism fund. Thanks for considering a JFP VIP membership or one-time support.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

comments powered by Disqus