Barbour Showed Early Talent For Politics - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

11/05/03

Barbour Showed Early Talent For Politics

By the time Haley Barbour made his first trip to Washington, he was 23 and already knee-deep in politics, having worked on a presidential campaign and run the census in Mississippi.

As Barbour and boyhood friend Griffin Norquist sat on the Capitol steps at nightfall and watched the lights twinkle on the national mall, Barbour contemplated how obtaining power in Washington could benefit their home state.

"He understood that for Mississippi to kind of move ahead ... it required us to be so close to Washington,'' Norquist said. "Here I was wondering where I was going to get a beer and he was thinking about things like that.''

Barbour, 56, went on to become a powerful political figure, and the Beltway connections he made over the years played a key role in his gubernatorial victory over Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove on Tuesday.

The election was characterized by bickering over Barbour's Washington connections. Musgrove painted Barbour as being out of touch with Mississippi and said the Republican had made big bucks by backing international trade policies that were bad for the state.

Barbour, who has spent decades as a Washington lobbyist and power broker, said he wanted to put his powerful Rolodex to work for the state.

"I won't apologize for being successful,'' Barbour said after Musgrove stung him with the outsider label during a debate.

Barbour's success includes serving as political director for President Reagan in the mid-1980s and as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.

Barbour is now chairman and CEO of Barbour Griffith & Rogers, one of Washington's top-ranked lobbying firms, and is part owner of the Caucus Room, a tony Washington restaurant that caters to the political set.

His role as a prominent Washington lobbyist - representing corporate giants such as Lockheed Martin and Microsoft - helped make Barbour a millionaire, but those fat paychecks will disappear in his new job. He will earn $122,160 a year as leader of one of the poorest states in the nation.

And instead of shaping national GOP strategies like he did for Reagan and the RNC, he will focus on forging relationships with a Democratic-dominated state Legislature.

Barbour maintained a home in his native Yazoo City while working in Washington and has a knack for down-home turns of phrase. During the campaign, Barbour said Musgrove was "running from his record like a scalded dog.''

His descriptive language also sometimes landed Barbour in trouble. In May, Barbour angered some early childhood advocates with his awkward attempt to praise Head Start. He called the program a "godsend'' but added: "Some of those kids in it would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now.''

Norquist, president of the Bank of Yazoo City, says Barbour has always had a natural flair for politics. It all started when he was crowned king of the Yazoo City teen center in the sixth grade and continued in 1964, when he was elected student body president at Yazoo City High School.

Norquist, his rival in the student body race, slept late and slipped into class at the last minute, but Barbour met the school buses campaigning at 7:30 a.m.

"He beat me for president of the student body and it was not even close,'' Norquist said with a laugh.

Barbour is the youngest of three sons. His father was a lawyer and died when Barbour was 2. Barbour's mother worked as a secretary in the family's long-standing law firm.

In the fall of 1968, Barbour skipped the first semester of his senior year at the University of Mississippi and worked for Richard Nixon's presidential campaign. Mississippi went for George Wallace, but Barbour had started making a name for himself in GOP circles.

At 22, he ran the 1970 census in Mississippi. He earned his law degree in 1973, taking time off from school to work for Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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