Barbour ponders run for governor

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour saysMississippians are expressing a “huge appetite for change,” and hemay be offering his menu to solve state problems.

Barbour, of Yazoo City, has been traveling the state for thepast eight weeks as he ponders a run for governor next year. Hesaid he has heard calls for change from not only Republicans andbusinessmen but Democrats as well.

“Our state has got problems that are making us go backwards,”Barbour said Monday during a stop in Brookhaven.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

While it may sound like he is running, Barbour has not made thatdecision yet.

If he does decide to run, Barbour said that announcement wouldnot be made until after the November election. He said he did notwant to distract from Third District Rep. Chip Pickering’scongressional campaign.

Monday he touched on state problems related to tort reform, thestate budget and Medicaid and education.

“Somebody has got to be willing to step up and try to solvethose problems in the right kind of way,” Barbour said.

Barbour’s message to doctors was to not give up the tort reformfight too soon.

“Medical malpractice is the spear point for tort reform,”Barbour said.

Barbour said it appears Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is trying to “takethe wind out of the sails” of the tort reform movement with hisplans for a special session to deal with medical tort reform. Aspecial session date has not been set.

However, Barbour said doctors should not be “bought off” bywhatever action results from the session. While the medical issuesare at the forefront, Barbour indicated that tort reform solutionsfor businesses and other areas are also needed.

In budget matters, Barbour called for serious management of thestate’s struggling Medicaid situation.

In a state where university funding has been cut $99 million inthree years, which has resulted in tuition increases, Barbour saidthe decision facing the state is Medicaid or education. If thoseare the options, Barbour said he would choose education.

Citing an Attorney General’s opinion, Barbour said the governorhas more power to run the Medicaid program than what is currentlybeing used. Barbour said the Medicaid executive director should besomeone with serious management skills and not a politicalappointment.

Referring to this year’s legislative session, Barbour saidMusgrove was unwilling to share details of his plan to addressMedicaid ills with legislative leaders. Barbour said it seemedMusgrove was afraid someone else would get credit.

“You always ought to be willing to play with your cards faceup,” Barbour said.

With success, Barbour said there is plenty of credit to goaround. Recalling a saying from President Ronald Reagan, Barboursaid a lot can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets thecredit.

“We need a healthy dose of that at the state capitol,” Barboursaid.

In other areas, Barbour said education is first and foremost aneconomic development and quality of life issue. He said the focusshould not be on how much is spent for education, but instead onthe quality of education and the results that are produced.

“I don’t advocate spending less money, but we’ve got to spendthe money better,” Barbour said.

Barbour referred to a statement from President George W. Bushthat political leaders and citizens “cannot tolerate the softbigotry of low expectations.” He suggested that just because aschool is in a poor area does not mean it cannot meet educationalexpectations.

“We’ve got to set high standards and live by them,” Barboursaid, adding that schools should be accountable for the resultsthey produce.

One focus should be making sure students can read by the timethey leave the third grade, Barbour said. Students that aren’treading by then are more apt to be involved in crime and drugs andon welfare later in life, he said.

Regarding teacher pay, Barbour said raises should be based onmerit. He said there should be a significant difference between thepay of the best teachers and the worst.

“It’s just crucial,” Barbour said.

In economic development areas, Barbour said education must beabout creating a work force to meet business and industry needs. Hesaid community colleges are an indispensable and under-utilizedresource for meeting those needs.

Also, he said universities must move beyond research and putmore emphasis on developing applicable uses of their research. Hesaid University of Southern Mississippi’s polymer science studieswere a “perfect example” of how commercial applications have beendeveloped from the research.

Barbour doesn’t think vouchers, in which parents receive fundsto send their children to private or parochial schools, would workwell in the state. However, if space is available, Barbour saidparents should be allowed to move students out of bad schooldistricts to other better-performing districts.

“Parents who can afford to send their kid to private schoolsshould not be the only ones to have an opportunity to get theirkids out of bad schools,” Barbour said. “It’s just not fair.”