October 2, 2013 10:05:07 AM
He's been gone for a while, but hardly forgotten.
Haley Barbour's second term as governor of Mississippi ended two years ago. Old elected officials never die, of course, they just become lobbyists, which was the reason for Barbour's visit to the Friendly City on Tuesday.
Before an adoring joint luncheon of the Columbus-Lowndes Republican Women and the Columbus Rotary, Barbour displayed some of the skills that allowed him to rise from an obscure Yazoo City lawyer to the inner sanctum of the national Republican Party.
He held the audience in his amiable grasp for the better part of an hour while addressing a subject that most of the crowd could not have cared less about, U.S. energy policy, specifically, the controversial Kemper County lignite plant.
Because electricity suppliers are divided into three regions, Columbus residents are unlikely to recognize the direct impact of the plant, which is being built by Mississippi Power, which services the southernmost region of the state. Here, our electricity is provided by TVA.
While the two civic organizations chose the speaker, the speaker clearly chose the subject. As a lobbyist for the Kemper plant, Barbour was on the clock. You suspect he is always on the clock.
Even so, it's easy to see why Barbour is so comfortable in these settings. He is not a commanding presence nor is he the most skilled of speakers.
But what he is, what he has always been, is a skilled politician, someone who can make his case in an affable, thoroughly believable way.
Unquestionably, he has a way with people. He is comfortable speaking before strangers because he seems to have never met any.
Tuesday provided a handful of examples. As he spoke, he was able to pick out some familiar faces and use them to build rapport with those he didn't know.
There was a nod to Gil Harris, a retired Ceco Buildings engineer. And when, at the close of his speech he entertained questions, he used a question about the government shutdown to further connect with his audience acknowledging Sonic Johnson, who handles public affairs for Columbus Air Force Base.
"I see Sonic is here, so I guess (the shutdown) means he has the day off," Barbour quipped.
When one of the women in the crowd asked about his wife, Marcia, Barbour said that his wife was happy after 42 years of marriage, "mainly because I've been gone for 30 years of it." The audience ate it up, of course.
A former Canadian prime minister once observed, "Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects."
Barbour seems to have always known that.
These days, he may earn his living as a lobbyist, but he remains, first and foremost, a skilled politician.