First, truth in advertising. I am a liberal Democrat who knows Gov. Haley Barbour, as I am president of the Marsha Barbour Center in Pass Christian, Miss. The center was named after Mrs. Barbour because of the amazing work she did after Hurricane Katrina. That being said, I am in a unique position to comment on the work of the governor because I get to see and hear about exactly what he has been doing since the oil spill.
I was not surprised when I heard about Barbour ordering oil skimmers from two Mississippi shipbuilding companies. The companies turned on a dime and are delivering the skimmers posthaste. One of the companies was known for producing world-class luxury yachts and was able to get shifts working overtime to produce the skimmers.
Dubbed "Haley's Navy" by locals, these skimmers will save millions in cleanup costs and will also make sure that the oil does not reach the beach in large quantities. The ordering of these skimmers is a typical move for Haley Barbour – smart and strategic. The governor had exhibited that kind of smarts right after the storm. When Mississippi residents waited in line for FEMA, Barbour provided child care. He understood the need for the state's citizens and provided for them.
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Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama also was innovative following the spill, having had locals help design a 32-inch pipe boom filled with Styrofoam holding up a curtain to stop the oil slick from below the boom. Both governors relied on local innovation and worked with the federal government to accomplish their goals.
Barbour showed his prowess by ordering the skimmers and getting BP to pay for them. That's leadership in action.
In a crisis like the oil spill, leadership styles become glaringly evident. The difference between both Gov. Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Barbour is quite amazing. Jindal has tried to circumvent federal policies by his wish to dredge and build a seawall, which normally would take at least one very detailed environmental-impact study. Barbour has worked with the federal government and even declared that President Obama did more right than wrong in his handling the spill. That is quite a statement from a Republican governor in a midterm election year.
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BP, previously known for its technical prowess and innovation in the energy field, couldn't get focused after the spill. Barbour did. Criticized by the Mississippi Gulf press for not meeting with the president the first time he visited the Gulf, Barbour did not come in for the photo opportunity. He waited and assessed the situation.
Barbour did not feed the press, as Gov. Jindal did. He was careful and not critical. Jindal leaked to the press and talked to the press. Like a wet-behind-the-ears politician, he seized the moment to politically grandstand. Barbour, like a chess master, let the feds have the first move. Jindal behaved like the former New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, short-fused and impulsive. It must be something they put in the Louisiana water that made both a Democrat and a Republican politician behave the same way in a crisis. As a native Mississippian told me, "Jindal stood up stupid."
Mississippi has benefited by Barbour's experience as a lobbyist. Lobbyists in Washington aren't overly concerned with who is a Democrat and who is a Republican. They care about getting the job done and making sure the legislation is passed. Barbour has treated this crisis exactly the same, getting through the federal quagmire and infuriating neither BP nor the feds so he can get the resources to get the job done.
Barbour's leadership style has been evident throughout this crisis. He understands local innovation to solve problems, and he used those resources without trying to upstage the feds. He stepped back and analyzed the problems and identified a solution. He didn't grandstand. He did not try to score political points like neighboring Jindal. That is leadership, and, when 2012 comes around, the Young Turk Jindal is going to be passed over quickly. People in the GOP will be giving new attention to the old salty dog Barbour, and they should.