Barbour, Eaves cover familiar ground in second debate

Published 4:39 pm Friday, October 5, 2007

Republican Gov. Haley Barbour and Democratic challenger John Arthur Eaves Jr. exchanged many of the same zingers and accusations Thursday night in their second debate as they did two weeks ago in their first debate.

Before an audience of about 900 in Lee Hall at Mississippi State University, Eaves repeatedly criticized Barbour’s background as a Washington lobbyist and said Barbour continues protecting the interests of big oil, insurance and tobacco companies.

“We need a governor who serves the people, who will stand up to these moneychangers and put our interests first,” Eaves, a 41-year-old attorney, said in one of several biblical references of the night.

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Barbour, 59, drew some laughter from the audience when he responded: “Well, I’ll spare you the sanctimony.”

Barbour is seeking a second term in the Nov. 6 election. He defended his record in economic development and said Eaves was speaking in “gobbledygook.” He listed several companies that have chosen to build facilities in Mississippi since he’s been in office — Toyota, General Electric and the steel company SeverCorr.

“We’re creating jobs and better jobs. That’s what I want to focus on — making the life and the lives of Missisippians better,” Barbour said. “You don’t do that by talking. You don’t do that by smearing. You don’t do that by throwing mud and seeing how much will stick to the wall. You do it through leadership.”

Eaves criticized Barbour for vetoing bills that would’ve reduced the 7 percent grocery tax and increased the cigarette tax. Eaves said a supporter told him that if “the big bread lobby (and) the big butter lobby got together with the big bacon lobby,” they could’ve outdone the big tobacco lobby and gotten the grocery tax cut passed years ago.

Barbour said Eaves turns every question into a speech about his career as a lobbyist.

“I was a pretty dang good one,” Barbour said, adding that his Washington connections helped Mississippi when the state needed federal money for Hurricane Katrina recovery.

Eaves said that under Barbour, the state has some highest school-dropout and infant-mortality rates in the nation.

“It’s not a record I’d be proud of,” Eaves said.

Both candidates pledged to protect gun owners’ rights and to oppose abortion. Earlier this week, Barbour picked up endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Mississippi Right to Life.

Responding to a question from a panelist, Eaves said he was disappointed not to have received support from the two groups. He said he’s passing on to his sons the pride of gun ownership.

“Last year I skinned four deer and shot none of them because four boys got the joy of pulling the trigger,” Eaves said.

He took a jab at Barbour: “I would’ve liked to have had the endorsement, but I can’t twist arms in Washington sometimes.”

Barbour said he was amused earlier this week when his opponent responded to the NRA announcement by going on television holding a gun and saying the Eaves family has about 30 firearms.

“I don’t own but 12 or 13 guns,” Barbour said, eliciting some chuckles from the audience. “But the National Rifle Association is not talking about who’s got the most toys. The National Rifle Association is interested in public policy that protects the right of law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms.”

Last year, Barbour signed the “Castle Doctrine” into law. Supporters of the NRA-backed legislation said the law expanded Mississippians’ right to defend themselves against intruders in their homes, vehicles or businesses. Critics said it allows people to shoot first and ask questions later.

Touting the Mississippi Right to Life endorsement, Barbour said he also was proud that another anti-abortion group had given him an award in 2004 and declared Mississippi “the safest place in America for an unborn child.”

Eaves said that he — not Barbour — is “the most pro-life candidate in this state.”

“Not only am I for protecting the life of the unborn, but I’m also for protecting life after birth,” Eaves said.