- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 21, 2003

While Mississippi’s race for governor may not get as much national attention as the California recall, the race between Democrat Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and Republican Haley Barbour is one worth watching.

Mr. Musgrove won the popular vote in the 1999 election against Republican Rep. Mike Parker by about 8,000 votes. However, since he did not receive an outright majority of the total votes cast, he was ultimately “elected” by the Democrat-controlled Mississippi legislature. Mr. Musgrove’s challenger this year, Mr. Barbour of Yazoo City, Miss., is well known nationally as a close ally of President Bush. He served as chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) from 1993-1997 and is credited for helping lead the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress and nearly doubling the number of Republican governors nationwide during his tenure.

With two weeks to go before the Nov. 4 election, the battle is fully engaged between Mr. Musgrove and Mr. Barbour. Major points of contention between the two candidates are the current economic condition of the state and the huge state budget deficit that is estimated at about $700 million.

• Distorting Mississippi’s job numbers: In recent television commercials, Mr. Musgrove makes the ridiculous claim that he has created 56,000 new jobs since he was elected four years ago. However, the facts tell a different story. While there has been an increase in low-paying service sector jobs, according to a recent Associated Press story, the state has lost more than 48,000 manufacturing jobs since January 2000 or 21.5 percent of all such jobs. Overall, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippi has lost more than 34,000 jobs since Mr. Musgrove took office.

• Mississippi’s budget problems: Mississippi’s budget crisis has been another important point of contention during the campaign. While California’s budget woes have received mass media attention, Mississippi ranks second-worst behind California in fiscal management, according to a USA Today study that analyzed “how the 50 states spend, tax, and balance their budgets or don’t.” Mr. Musgrove has sought to avoid responsibility for his tax-and-spend policies by blaming the national recession for Mississippi’s fiscal mess. He has even gone so far as to call the national economy the “worst since World War II.”

The USA Today study makes a conclusion far different from Mr. Musgrove’s assertion about who is to blame for Mississippi’s budget fiasco stating, “The financial problems racking many state governments this year have less to do with the weak national economy than the ability of governors and legislators to manage money wisely.”

Running on the slogan “Mississippi can do better,” Mr. Barbour rarely gives a campaign speech without pointing out that four short years ago, when the Musgrove administration came into office, Mississippi was in the strongest financial condition in history. The state had a record surplus in the state treasury. Today, Mississippi is in its worst financial crisis ever, with a $700 million deficit.

• Mudslinging liberals: Just like in California, when the liberals lose the battle of ideas they resort to negative personal attacks. Mr. Musgrove has tried to paint Mr. Barbour as an outsider, attacking Mr. Barbour for his work in Washington that includes serving as the political director in the Reagan White House, chairman of the RNC and chairman and CEO of the lobbying firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers. Mr. Barbour, on the other hand, highlights his work and political experience as a way to bring more jobs and attention to Mississippi including the attention of Mr. Bush and his friends in Congress.

With only Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana and California having statewide elections this year, the race for governor in Mississippi has national implications — particularly with Mr. Barbour’s long-standing friendship with Mr. Bush. It’s no secret that the Democratic National Committee would like to embarrass Mr. Bush by defeating Mr. Barbour in Mississippi this fall and to give the Democrats momentum going into the 2004 presidential race.

Mr. Bush recently campaigned for Mr. Barbour at a fund-raising event in Jackson that drew over 1,000 attendees and raised more than $1.2 million. Mr. Musgrove can’t be pleased with that kind of turnout, considering the fact that Mr. Bush won Mississippi with 58 percent of the vote in 2000 despite Mr. Musgrove’s endorsement of Al Gore.

“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Mr. Bush said about his relationship with Mr. Barbour. “Haley has served at the highest levels of government, but let me assure you of one thing, whether it was in my conversations with him in Washington, D.C., or Austin, Texas, he always talked about Yazoo City. It is safe to say he has never forgot his roots.”

A victory in the Mississippi governor’s race may not have all the glamour of the California recall, but political pundits will be keeping a close eye on it. A Barbour victory will continue to fuel the important Bush momentum as we enter next year’s presidential election.

David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United and former chief investigator for the House Committee on Government and Oversight.

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