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Barbour wisely plays game, holds reins of Capitol agenda

Whether you call him sly or a master politician, you have toadmit Gov. Haley Barbour is at the top of his game.

Constitutionally, Mississippi’s governor holds few cards in thepolitical game. The bulk of the political muscle in the balance ofpower – or imbalance, if you will – lies instead withlawmakers.

That’s always been the conventional wisdom. Then along comesBarbour to turn conventional wisdom on its head.

Barbour, in calling special session after special session sincethe Legislature adjourned in April, has effectively cemented hisstanding as a veritable force to be reckoned with. The governorcontrols the agenda during special sessions in Mississippi, andBarbour has played that provision to his full advantage.

Despite a Democratic-controlled state House and Senate, thegovernor – along with considerable help from Republican Lt. Gov.Amy Tuck, who runs the Senate – has muscled through projectsranging from bond issues to the Momentum Mississippi incentive planas well as a school funding plan tailored more to his liking thanmany lawmakers would have preferred.

In the last few months, the theme, it seems, has been “WhatHaley wants, Haley gets.”

But as Friday’s special session to approve bond money for BaxterHealthcare in Cleveland shows, Barbour knows just how hard to push.Barbour and House and Senate leaders agreed beforehand on thelanguage of the bill, providing for quick passage. However, whenBarbour momentarily considered adding more bond money for theNorthrup-Grumman shipyard on the coast, House Speaker Billy McCoybalked, and Barbour wisely stood down – yet another example of thegovernor’s prowess as a shrewd politician.