Political scientist: Barbour key to 2012 GOP race

January 6, 2010 9:50:00 AM

Jason Browne - [email protected]


According to the director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, you, too, are a political scientist. 


"Everybody''s a political scientist," said Dr. William "Marty" Wiseman during his Tuesday address to the Columbus Rotary Club. "Everyone that watched the news with their morning coffee and complained about the government is a political scientist." 


In his jovial manner, Wiseman, father of Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman, pointed out that nobody has all the answers. But he took a moment to share some of his musings with the Rotarians. 


Wiseman dove in headfirst by tackling the issue of the hour: The state budget. 


"This is the toughest job I''ve ever seen the Legislature have to deal with," Wiseman began. "They''re hemmed up by the budget with no way out." 


This year is different, he contends, because Gov. Haley Barbour and the Legislature won''t be bailed out by federal stimulus funds or emergency funds received following Hurricane Katrina. 


"Katrina made (Barbour) able to perform as admirably as he has," said Wiseman. 


Without federal assistance, Mississippi''s deficit could top $1 billion over the next 24 months. That''s bad for legislators who will be forced to revisit the issue next year, but the Governor is in good shape. 


"I see Haley as a good potential to be (Sarah) Palin''s Dick Cheney," said Wiseman. 


If Palin doesn''t split with the Republican party to represent an independent third party, such as the Tea Party, in the 2012 presidential race, Wiseman sees Barbour as the right man to shore up Palin''s perceived inexperience within the party. 


Barbour, a two-term governor and head of the Republican Governors Association, was credited with performing well after Hurricane Katrina, has been highly visible in recent gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia -- both Republican victories -- and figures to be a force in the remaining 37 races between now and 2012. 


"Who has more influence in states where Republicans are governor? He''s hugged more Republicans. He''s the best known," said Wiseman. "A Palin- or (Mitt) Romney-led ticket would have to look to the heart of the base. And who stands there but Haley Barbour?" 


Wiseman says Barbour may not possess the right combination of traits necessary to carry a presidential ticket, but he could put one over the top as a vice presidential candidate. 


"He will be subject to looking like a Boss Hogg character with a southern accent, but he has a lot of stroke in the party," said Wiseman. 


Barbour remains on top of state issues, as well. Wiseman pointed out how Barbour''s budget recommendations, released in September, have garnered much more press than the Joint Legislative Budget Committee''s December report when, in the past, the Governor''s report has been all but ignored. His suggestion to merge Mississippi University for Women with Mississippi State University could almost be taken as a challenge to the Legislature. 


Regardless who sets the agenda, Wiseman says education must remain a priority in this legislative session in order for Mississippi to progress. 


"We''re last in pupil expenditure, but we''re in the Top 10 in the percentage of tax dollars spent on education. There''s just not enough dollars to get us off the bottom," says Wiseman. 


Other hot topics for this legislative session will include Medicare and Medicaid, mental health funding and the Public Employee Retirement System. 


Turning his attention to national politics, Wiseman predicted a political chess game would play out in coming years. 


Although the majority-Democratic congress has received low approval ratings, Republicans could squander a golden opportunity to reclaim the House and the Senate if they don''t rally together over issues like health care. 


Dissatisfaction with both parties and a desire among voters to elect perceived moderates could benefit congressmen like District 1 U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, a Blue Dog Democrat. Wiseman says Republican challengers like Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, can''t rely on the district''s past voting record to steal the seat. 


"It''s going to be a very interesting and close race in the First District and the nation will keep an eye on it," said Wiseman. 


The same uncertainty holds true for the presidential election in 2012. If a popular candidate like Palin defects to the largely conservative Tea Party, Wiseman predicts it will divide Republican voters and likely lead to a second term for President Obama.