Although the Bush administration and the Republican Party nationally were clearly hurt politically by their inability to effectively respond to Hurricane Katrina, on a more local level it was Democrats who seemed to bear the brunt of the political backlash. For instance, while Mississippi's Republican Governor Haley Barbour, a former career lobbyist and chairman of the Republican National Committee, has seen his approval rating remain fairly good, Louisiana's Democratic Governor Kathleen Blanco has seen her numbers stick at or below the low-40s since the deluge. Unsurprisingly, then, Barbour is running for reelection this fall while Blanco is not.
But should Mississippians turn a skeptical eye towards their Governor, perhaps those numbers could begin to move. An article on the Bloomberg newswire today by Timothy J. Burger may just provide that opportunity for Mississippi voters to rethink their views of Barbour.
Many Mississippians have benefited from Governor Haley Barbour's efforts to rebuild the state's devastated Gulf Coast in the two years since Hurricane Katrina. The $15 billion or more in federal aid the former Republican national chairman attracted has reopened casinos and helped residents move to new or repaired homes.
Among the beneficiaries are Barbour's own family and friends, who have earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from hurricane-related business. A nephew, one of two who are lobbyists, saw his fees more than double in the year after his uncle appointed him to a special reconstruction panel. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in June raided a company owned by the wife of a third nephew, which maintained federal emergency- management trailers.
Meanwhile, the governor's own former lobbying firm, which he says is still making payments to him, has represented at least four clients with business linked to the recovery.
Reading through the entire article, the details sound even worse. Two of Haley Barbour's nephews -- one of whom, Henry Barbour, was the Governor's campaign manager during the 2003 campaign -- registered as lobbyists for the first time almost immediately after their uncle was sworn in. Henry Barbour, in particular, saw his fortunes rise, both after his uncle's successful campaign and then after his uncle appointed him as unpaid executive director of the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal, with his lobbying fees growing from nothing to $150,000 in the Governor's first year in office to $379,000 in 2006, the first full year after Hurricane Katrina hit. At the same time, a number of those enriching Henry Barbour through plush lobbying contracts were also plying Haley Barbour with campaign contributions.
This is all just some of the information contained in the article. Other details bring up similar questions. Burger makes clear that "no evidence has surfaced that Barbour violated the law," but quotes the head of a government watchdog group who explains that these revelations raise "many red flags."
It's not clear that there is much to gain for local Democrats in the short run by hitting on these allegations. By most accounts this fall's gubernatorial election is not supposed to be terribly close, and the Democratic nominee, John Eaves, appears to be running, at least in part, on bringing back school prayer. That said, there are those who view Barbour as Vice Presidential material -- or even potentially Presidential material (you know how Republicans love their lobbyists like Fred Thompson and Haley Barbour...) -- so there are long-term benefits to the Democrats giving this news a full airing, both in Mississippi and inside the Beltway, to help undercut Barbour before he can act on national ambitions.