Governor frequent flyer on state planes

Published 5:03 pm Friday, September 22, 2006

Gov. Haley Barbour and his staff have traveled tens of thousands of miles in the past 18 months at a cost to taxpayers of more than $650,000, according to records.

The Clarion-Ledger newspaper, which conducted the review, said the travel documents showed the 104,710 miles occurred from Jan. 1, 2005 to June 30 and included trips to Charleston, S.C. and Oakland, Calif. During that time, Barbour spent about four months total time — parts of 133 days — out of state. The Republican governor traveled to Washington, D.C., 28 times during the period, with more than half of those trips occurring after Hurricane Katrina smashed the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Records state Barbour’s reasons for out-of-state trips were to lobby for federal aid after Katrina and to attend economic development meetings and speeches at public policy conferences or awards ceremonies.

Barbour frequently traveled with his wife, his personal assistant and unnamed security guards.

“The governor uses the state plane for state business,” Barbour spokesman Pete Smith said. “Gov. Barbour is a very aggressive advocate for the state of Mississippi on many different fronts.”

Whenever the governor leaves the state he must notify Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck because, under state law, the lieutenant governor would serve as Mississippi’s chief executive officer during the governor’s absence.

University of Southern Mississippi political science professor Joe Parker said extensive traveling is part of the governor’s job.

“Now that governors have planes and helicopters and SUVs, they can get pretty much anywhere at taxpayer expense,” Parker said. “Of course, the necessity (of the trip) is in the eye of the beholder.”