Barbour of Civility

What is the main thing? According to Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.&...
by | July 20, 2006

Barbour What is the main thing? According to Haley Barbour, governor of Mississippi, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."

Barbour made this comment, quoting FedEx founder Fred Smith, at the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council Wednesday in San Francisco.

Barbour received the conservative group's highest award for his work honoring free market principles and limiting the size of government. Throughout his remarks, Barbour expressed the importance of civility and reaching across the aisle to work with the Democrats who control his state's legislature.

Barbour's point in talking about "the main thing" was to stress the importance of staying focused. When he took office in 2004, Mississippi was running a big deficit and had lost 38,000 jobs. Barbour has managed to bring the state budget back into balance, while increasing spending on education and job training. (Revenues are up and he's made big cuts to Medicaid.)

"Even with Katrina, we have 20,000 more people working in Mississippi today than when we started these initiatives in January 2004," he told a luncheon crowd of about 1,500 legislators and lobbyists.

It was recounting Hurricane Katrina, of course, that provided the emotional highlight of his presentation. Barbour told stories about a police department whose building was completely engulfed by the storm, sweeping its members out of the building. But they were soon all back on duty anyway.

Barbour thanked legislators from around the country for help Mississippi received from every state. He added that "the federal government did a whole lot more right than wrong."

It was hard not to note the irony of Barbour talking about the essential role of government in a crisis situation while receiving an award celebrating limits on government.