Haley Barbour was elected governor on November 4, 2003, in the largest voter turnout in Mississippi history, up to that time. He made history again in 2007 when he became only the second governor since Reconstruction to be re-elected to a second consecutive term – a 1987 state constitutional amendment allowed a governor to serve two consecutive terms. The first was Kirk Fordice, who was elected in 1991 and in 1995.
Barbour received his law degree from the University of Mississippi in 1973. In 1982 he ran unsuccessfully for the United States Senate against Senator John Stennis, his only other bid for elective office prior to his election as governor. He later served for two years as advisory to U.S. President Ronald Reagan as director of the White House Office of Political Affairs, and was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997. Immediately prior to his election as governor, Barbour was the chief executive officer of Barbour Griffith & Rogers, a top lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.
Born on October 22, 1947, in Yazoo City, Mississippi, Haley Reeves Barbour’s lineage is deeply rooted in Mississippi history. He is a descendant of Walter Leake, the third governor of Mississippi (1822-1825), and of Louis LeFleur, the French-Canadian who established a trading post on the Pearl River that became known as LeFleur’s Bluff, and became the capital city of Jackson in 1821.
In Governor Barbour’s first administration the legislature passed the Tort Reform Act of 2004, which was considered “one of the most comprehensive legal reform bills in the nation.” Under his leadership the legislature also passed several anti-abortion bills. In his second administration, the Toyota automobile plant opened in Blue Springs, Mississippi, and added several thousand jobs to Mississippi’s workforce.
After Hurricane Katrina slammed the Mississippi Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005, Governor Barbour and First Lady Marsha Barbour led a restoration and reconstruction effort that won praise and accolades from both local citizens and Americans across the country. In April 2010 another disaster struck the Gulf Coast. The Deepwater Horizon offshore oil well explosion flooded Mississippi’s coastline with crude oil. Again, Governor Barbour’s quick and comprehensive response to this crisis enhanced his reputation as a leader.
In recognition of Governor Barbour’s leadership and accomplishments, Governing magazine named him Governor of the Year in 2006, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency presented him the Gulf Guardian Award for his efforts to rebuild and protect the sensitive Gulf Coast ecosystems. In 2008 the Business Industry Political Action Committee awarded him the Adam Smith Medal for his commitment to the principles of free enterprise. In 2009 Governor Barbour was elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
During the early stages of the 2012 United States presidential campaign, Governor Barbour’s friends and supporters around the country encouraged him to enter the race for the Republican Party’s nomination. However, on April 25, 2011, Governor Barbour announced that he would not enter the presidential campaign.
When Governor Barbour left office on January 10, 2012, for the first time since Reconstruction a Republican governor was succeeded by another Republican governor, Phil Bryant. All of Mississippi’s other statewide officials who were inaugurated on January 5, except for the attorney general, were Republicans. When the Mississippi Legislature convened on January 3, the Republican Party held a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Most historians credit Governor Haley Barbour’s leadership with the success of the Mississippi Republican Party in the 2011 general election.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Governor Haley Barbour website
Mississippi Official and Statistical Registers: 2004-2008; 2008-2012
Mississippi Secretary of State website, Election Results