He assessed the problems facing his state, cut through red tape and was willing to criticize his fellow Republican, President George W. Bush, for the way he handled the crisis. Barbour was — dare we say it — statesman-like. Thus, pundits began talking about the former chair of the Republican National Committee as a potential presidential candidate.
The candidacy thing did not work out for Barbour in 2008, but there are those who feel there still is time for him to become the GOP standard-bearer in 2012.
Nevertheless, those hopes might have been lessened last week when Barbour revealed that if Mississippi were not in danger from the BP oil spill, he would be less of a statesman than he was after Katrina. Instead, he’d be — dare we say it — a Republican.
Or, at least, a “big-oil Republican.”
As President Obama’s arm-twisting concessions were being applauded along the Gulf Coast, Barbour said something odd. He was not sure BP should be forced to put $20 billion — $5 billion a year over the next four years — into an escrow account to guarantee that the claims against it will be paid and the Gulf Coast will be cleaned up.
Barbour worried that making BP set the money aside might mean that the company would not have the resources to do the drilling that would provide profits for the escrow account.
In other words, let BP continue to invest in drilling and pay dividends to stockholders, and if there is anything left over, then pay for all the damage they have done.
At least Barbour did not apologize to the oil giant or call requiring an escrow account a “shakedown” the way Congressman Joe Barton, a Texas representative and recipient of Big Oil’s campaign largess, did last week. But like Barton, Barbour showed an insensitivity to his neighbors that outraged Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
It outraged a lot of other folks, as well.
Because of Gulf of Mexico currents and the shape of its coast, Mississippi has been less affected by the spill than Alabama and Louisiana. With less environmental damage to worry about and Alabamians still filling the casinos in Biloxi, Barbour has more time to reflect on the future of BP.
His neighbors are not so fortunate.
If Haley Barbour’s plans for his future include a run for the GOP nomination, he needs to consider constituents beyond the borders of the Magnolia State. Barbour may be making friends in the BP boardrooms, but he is losing friends along the coast.