October 18, 2003


Mr. Washington Goes to Mississippi (NICHOLAS DAWIDOFF, October 19, 2003, NY Times Magazine)

Out on the stump, speaking in a drawl lately grown so sweet and sticky you could pour it on your griddle cakes, the candidate likes to refer to ''our little lobbyin' firm up in Washington, D.C.'' There is, however, nothing down-home about Barbour Griffith & Rogers Inc. Situated in a luxe office building high above Pennsylvania Avenue, B.G.&R. is perhaps the most influential lobbying firm in the country. In a day when some lobbyists wield more power than many legislators, Barbour has been the best connected of them all, ''the quintessential creature of Washington,'' according to The Washington Post. [...]

Campaigning against ''a multimillionaire Washington lobbyist'' has proved irresistible to Musgrove. He has drenched radios and televisions with tales of Barbour ''helping the big tobacco companies that peddle their products to our children and poison their future'' and collecting lobbying fees from the Mexican government and lobbying for free trade, which ''cost Mississippi 41,000 jobs.''

And what route does a man with a cartographer's knowledge of the Washington political geography take when he ventures outside the Beltway? During an appearance at a DeSoto County Catholic school, in a somewhat cryptic attempt to express his support for Head Start programs, which help poor children, Barbour said: ''Head Start is a godsend for Mississippi. Some of those kids in it would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now.''

That was the rare unscripted moment. Barbour has conducted the coy campaign you might expect from a man about whom Barbour's brother Jeppie says, ''My brother's a politician with more tact than nerve.'' Barbour offers rhetoric busy with conservative shibboleths -- ''For people who choose not to work, those who do work shouldn't have to pick up the pail for you.'' But such welfare-bashing does little, it would seem, to advance the debate about how to solve Mississippi's chronic poverty.

Barbour's enormous campaign budget and speeches consisting of gestures to patriotism, moral values, low taxes, jobs creation, small government but big law enforcement make clear that it is Barbour who is Junior Bush; he has replicated himself from the presidential template. Barbour, in fact, makes frequent references to Bush's personal affection for him as a fellow C student and is given to denouncing ''liberals'' with a borrowed dose of bravado. ''Bring 'em on!'' he cries day after day.

Barbour's campaign has experienced some unexpected obstacles. In August, his son Reeves was arrested for public drunkenness. There has also been the question of what many Mississippians consider Barbour's belated interest in the state's problems. While Barbour did join a successful Yazoo City effort to bring a penitentiary to his hometown, Gene Triggs, a retired vice president of Mississippi Chemical Corporation, complains that ''he made few contributions to Yazoo City.'' According to Triggs, the once thriving town has never recovered from the period of school integration in the 1970's and 80's, when many whites, like Haley and Marsha Barbour, packed their children off to the private academies that were opening across the state. ''Any parent has the right to send their kids where they can get the best education,'' Triggs says, but keeping your kids in public school ''was one positive stand a person could take to make the community better. I felt he should have exerted some leadership, and he never did.''

Gotta love the Times--a day after boiling this race down to just two issues and writing that , "The second question is whether the governor, a career politician who has never lived outside the state, can convince voters that Mr. Barbour is unfit to hold high office in Mississippi, because he spent most of his adulthood as a lobbyist and Republican wheeler-dealer in Washington," they portray Mr. Barbour in precisely the terms that Mr. Musgrove requires.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 18, 2003 9:01 AM

One red-flagged clue, as to the cause of Mississippi's "chronic poverty", can be seen in their rate of functional illiteracy.

Working on that might not even require additional funding, (although, if they can squeeze some honey out of DC...), if the eventual Governor can put together a strong coalition to change educational priorities.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at October 18, 2003 9:58 PM

It has become obvious to me that Mississippians do not value education very highly. I suppose it has become part of our genetic codes since we have a legacy of resisting educational improvements. My premise is that we must "market" educational importance to the people before our governmental programs improve the conditions of our people.

Posted by: Pete at December 1, 2003 2:31 PM