Barbour begins 2nd term as Mississippi governor

Published 6:27 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Mississippi’s Republican governor, Haley Barbour, started his second term Tuesday by pledging to create more jobs as one of the nation’s poorest states continues its massive recovery from Hurricane Katrina.

He angered some lawmakers by criticizing the high rate of births to single mothers in the Delta and the southwestern part of the state. Though he never mentioned the racial makeup of those regions, they are predominantly black.

“Much of the state has the strongest economy and the highest employment ever, but some areas are suffering, especially in the Delta and southwest Mississippi, where we must not only improve education and work force skills but also combat and reduce the scourge of illegitimacy,” Barbour said during his 13-minute inaugural speech on the south steps of the Capitol.

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“It is virtually impossible for significant economic progress to take root where there has been major decline in the family structure,” he said.

After the speech, Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said he was “appalled.”

“If he has trouble finding an understanding of why the Delta or southwest Mississippi is lacking economically, I would encourage him to help empower them by creating jobs, improving housing and doing all those things that allow people to improve their quality of life,” said Flaggs, who is black. “A governor should be about improving the lives of Mississippians and he should be reminded that there’s only one Mississippi and what affects one of us affects all of us.”

Barbour, a Yazoo City native, worked in the Reagan White House in the mid-1980s and was chairman of the Republican National Committee chairman from 1993-97. He was a powerful Washington lobbyist before returning to his home state in 2003 and unseating Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.

His first term was shaped by Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed thousands of homes and businesses across a wide swath of south Mississippi when it struck on Aug. 29, 2005.

Barbour used his Capitol Hill connections to help the state get billions of federal dollars for Katrina recovery. He easily defeated trial lawyer John Arthur Eaves Jr. in the November 2007 general election.

About 2,000 people attended the inaugural ceremony, many standing among the magnolias on the Capitol grounds.

Barbour said that during his first term, Mississippi improved its economy and kept doctors in the state by putting limits on civil lawsuits. He also said officials had erased a budget shortfall.

He acknowledged that Katrina recovery is still a massive job.

“When it happened nearly 2 1/2 years ago, I didn’t realize this awful catastrophe, something you wouldn’t wish on your own worst enemy, would actually do more to improve Mississippi’s image than anything that has happened in my lifetime; or that in the wake of the devastation, there would come more opportunity for our state to move forward than any living generation of Mississippians has known,” Barbour said. “But by God’s grace, that’s what is happening.”

Barbour received bipartisan praise for Katrina recovery.

“We know that he’s done a great job with a lot of areas on the Gulf Coast,” Rep. Billy Broomfield, D-Moss Point, said after the speech. “But until everyone has somewhere to live and lay their head and claim it as home, we still have a lot of work to do. I believe this is going to be the session to get it done.

After Barbour spoke, a Mississippi Army National Guard regiment gave a 19-gun salute and a massive C-17 military aircraft flew low over the 105-year-old Capitol.

Barbour attended a gospel prayer breakfast Monday at the state agriculture museum. After the swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, a parade marched through downtown Jackson. An afternoon reception was planned at the Governor’s Mansion, and the inaugural ball was held Tuesday night at the Mississippi Coliseum.

Mississippi was one of only three states with a governor’s election in 2007.

In Louisiana, Republican Bobby Jindal defeated several other candidates. Democratic incumbent Kathleen Blanco opted not to seek re-election after coming under sharp criticism for her handling of that state’s recovery from two 2005 hurricanes, Katrina and Rita. Jindal is the son of immigrants and is the first Indian-American elected governor in the nation.

In Kentucky, Democrat Steve Beshear defeated Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher. Beshear was inaugurated in December.