Haley Barbour heads lecture series at MSU

Former Gov. Haley Barbour, right, greets MSU students following a Lamar Conerly Governance Lecture Series Lecture Monday. Barbour served as governor of Mississippi from 2004 to 2012. (Photo by Charlie Benton, SDN)
Staff Writer

Leadership, cooperation and the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina came up when former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour spoke on the Mississippi State University campus Friday.

The lecture was given as part of the Lamar Conerly Governance Lecture Series and was held in the Foster Ballroom of the Clvard Student Union on campus. Barbour served as governor from 2004 to 2012, and is a founding partner of the BGR Group, a lobbying firm. He is an alumnus of the University of Mississippi and a native of Yazoo City. He has also served as chair of the Republican National Committee.

Barbour said willingness to change decisions and be humble when things don’t go as planned is crucial for a leader.

“You’ve got to be willing to make bad decisions and change them,” Barbour said. “I can’t tell you how many times we changed decisions after we saw we weren’t getting a result that the people needed, or that this wasn’t the best outcome that we could have gotten.”

He cited his administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina as an example.

“In a megadisaster, no decision is letting nature take its course,” Barbour said. “When nature is taking its course in the megadisaster, it is not going to be a good outcome. A leader’s got to make decisions.”

Barbour also weighed in on the current political situation and the election of Donald J. Trump as president, and lamented that members of the two parties did not communicate as well as they once did.

“The first time I ever went to Washington in 1968 I went to see Sen. (James) Eastland,” Barbour said. “My uncle, a partner in our law firm at the time, told me to go see Sen. Eastland … (They) took me into Eastland’s office, and Eastland is sitting there having a drink with Teddy Kennedy, the most liberal person in the United States Senate. Here’s Jim Eastland, maybe in the top five conservatives, but with him are Roman Hruska and Carl Curtis, both right-wing Republican Senators from Nebraska and Herman Talmadge, another Southern Democrat from Georgia.“

Barbour said he had a good visit with the senators, despite the political differences.

“It is easier to work through hard problems if you have a relationship that is at least, if not a friend relationship, somebody you understand and you’ve spent some time with. That creates camaraderie,” Barbour said. “It’s very important, and we see very little of that today.”

Barbour said the lack of camaraderie in politics had its roots in redistricting at a national level in the 1980s, and came to a head during the administration of President Barack Obama.

“Today, there are about 350 seats that are not competitive between the two parties, which means we’ve hollowed out the middle,” Barbour said.

Following his lecture, Barbour told the SDN that in order to move politics away from the far left and far right, district lines would have to be changed.

“In our state, that’s very hard, because we only have four districts, and we’ve only got 47,000 square miles," Barbour said. "But in bigger states like Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, not to mention California, Illinois and New York, you could do the districts in a way that there would be more competitive districts.”