Haley Barbour made his name in national Republican politics and was a successful Washington, D.C., lobbyist before returning to his native Mississippi and unseating one-term Democratic governor Ronnie Musgrove in 2003.
Haley Reeves Barbour was born 22 October 1947 in Yazoo City, a small Delta town about twenty-five miles northwest of Jackson. His father, an attorney, died when Haley was young, and he and his brothers were raised by their mother. After starring at high school baseball in the 1960s, he attended the University of Mississippi, leaving a few credits short of earning an undergraduate degree.
Barbour began his political career in 1968 as a staffer for Republican Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign. Barbour subsequently returned to the University of Mississippi and earned a law degree in 1972 before becoming the southeastern coordinator for Republican Gerald Ford’s unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign. Barbour ran for the US Senate in 1982 but was defeated by the Mississippian who had held the seat for more than thirty years, Democrat John C. Stennis.
Barbour served as Pres. Ronald Reagan’s White House political director in 1985 and chaired the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997. In November 1994, under Barbour’s leadership, Republicans won control of both chambers of Congress for the first time in forty years. In 2000 Barbour headed Texas governor George W. Bush’s presidential campaign advisory committee.
Barbour was one of the founders of Barbour Griffith and Rogers, a high-profile Washington lobbying firm whose client list included a wide range of corporate interests, among them Microsoft to tobacco and utility companies.
In the 2003 Mississippi governor’s race, Barbour easily defeated Jackson attorney Mitch Tyner in the primary before turning his attention to Musgrove in the general election. The Republican candidate relentlessly criticized the incumbent governor’s signature achievement—persuading Nissan to build Mississippi’s first automotive manufacturing plant, which opened about five months before the gubernatorial election. Barbour went on to defeat Musgrove, receiving 53 percent of the overall vote.
During his first year as governor Barbour was sharply criticized by advocates for the poor when he persuaded lawmakers to cut millions of dollars from the Medicaid budget. Barbour said the proudest achievements of his first term were improving the state budget, enacting limits on civil lawsuits, and persuading Toyota to build an auto manufacturing plant in the Northeast Mississippi town of Blue Springs. However, his first term was most strongly defined by Hurricane Katrina, which left a wide swath of destruction across South Mississippi when it struck in August 2005. Barbour persuaded federal officials to give Mississippi billions of dollars for storm recovery, and he easily won a second term in November 2007, receiving 57 percent of the vote.
Barbour continues to be a force in Republican politics, and in 2015 he published, with Jere Nash, America’s Greatest Storm: Leading through Hurricane Katrina.
- Haley Barbour, America’s Great Storm: Leading through Hurricane Katrina (2015)
- Mississippi Secretary of State, 2003 Election Results, Mississippi Official Statistical Register (2004–8)
- Emily Wagster Pettus, Associated Press (31 October 2003, 3 November 2007)