Barbour Delivers First State Of The State Speech

Gov. Haley Barbour brought lawmakers together for a rare night session Monday to lay out a broad agenda for Mississippi, a State of the State address covering topics ranging from job creation to coping with a tight budget.

"I see the purpose of the State of the State to seriously propose good public policy,'' Barbour, 56, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

"You can't go into everything in a lot of depth, just because there are limits for how long people can sit and listen,'' he said. "But it will be much more about policy, and it will focus on the things that I talked about in the campaign.''

The governor's address before a joint session of the Legislature in the House chamber began at 6 p.m. The speech was broadcast live on the television and radio stations of Mississippi Public Broadcasting.

It marked the first time in decades that a Mississippi governor gave the annual State of the State in the evening rather than the afternoon. Governors use their State of the State speeches to lay out a vision for the state and to put forth specific policy proposals.

House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said it was important that Barbour provide lawmakers with the details of his agenda.

"I think that Gov. Barbour will be very specific with a few things that he believes will make a difference,'' McCoy said before the speech Monday. "I think that we won't have any trouble understanding what his priority's going to be.''

Other lawmakers said they wanted to hear about specific topics. Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, said Barbour should commit to supporting pay raises for state employees.

Few legislative leaders have held out hope for such raises this session, and Barbour has said the state needs to cut expenses rather than increase them.

"With his connections, he ought to be able to find some funding for our state employees,'' Hines said.

Rep. Rita Martinson, R-Madison, said she wanted to hear that Barbour "has a definite plan on expanding our work force development.''

Barbour, a former Republican National Committee chairman, defeated Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove in the Nov. 4 general election and was inaugurated Jan. 13. Barbour said he intentionally kept his inaugural speech brief. It ran 14 minutes and was delivered from a stage on the Capitol steps.

"My whole view of the inaugural address is people are outside, it's a not very comfortable setting. I owed it to people not to talk too long,'' Barbour said.

He said when he finished the inaugural address, he turned to his wife, Marsha, and asked: "'Was the speech too short?'''

"The laughter up on the stage was deafening,'' Barbour said.

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)