JACKSON, MISS. — Once a governor, always a governor in Mississippi. The title never fades, even when the time in office expires.
However, with his recent re-entry into public policy discussions about energy, Haley Barbour appears to be wearing “Gov.” as more than an honorary title.
Call him Shadow Gov. Barbour — a person who still pushes ideas that, for better or worse, might shape Mississippi’s economic future.
When Actual Gov. Phil Bryant was in Brazil on an economic development trip this past week, fellow Republican Barbour earned headlines with a speech defending rate increases for a new power plant and advocating the possibilities of nuclear waste reprocessing — two projects that aren’t far from the wallets of Barbour and his current professional colleagues.
Barbour said Mississippi should explore options for storing or reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, a topic promoted in recent weeks by Mississippi Energy Institute, a group that Barbour started in 2009. He said if a state has the right kind of geology, it could lure “gigantic investment” and high-tech jobs that offer residents big paychecks.
“This is going to be an enormous economic Godsend for somebody,” Barbour told more than 250 people at a Madison County Business League luncheon.
The chairman of Mississippi Energy Institute is Barry Cannada, an attorney at the Butler Snow law firm in Ridgeland where Barbour has worked in government relations and business development since finishing his second term as governor in January 2012. The MEI president is Patrick Sullivan, who worked on Barbour’s gubernatorial staff as an energy policy adviser. Jason Dean, a former Barbour education adviser who now works for a unit of Butler Snow, spoke to a state Senate committee in late August to advocate that Mississippi explore nuclear reprocessing.
After the speech, The Associated Press asked Barbour whether he could benefit financially from energy projects he discussed.
“I don’t get paid anything by Butler Snow,” Barbour replied. “And as far as I know but you’ll have to ask, I don’t think Butler Snow gets paid anything by Mississippi Energy Institute.”
AP: Do you work for Butler Snow for free?
“I’m of counsel to Butler Snow, so I don’t do their clients, really. I mean, they pay me but it’s not for doing legal work,” Barbour said.
During the speech, Barbour said it’s normal for utility rates to increase anytime a new power generating plant opens. Mississippi Power Co. rates are anticipated to increase 22 percent because of a coal-fired plant being built in Kemper County; the state Public Service Commission has already approved most of the increase. Because of a law Barbour signed as governor, the company was able to start seeking rate increases while the project is under construction.
Barbour acknowledged that Mississippi Power Co.’s corporate parent, Southern Co., has been a client since 1981 of BGR, the Washington lobbying firm he co-founded decades ago as Barbour Griffith & Rogers. He noted that he was not working for BGR while he was governor; his assets were in a blind trust.
Barbour aimed most of his energy speech at a wide audience, but he fell back into the gubernatorial habit of dispensing advice to policymakers.
“I will say to y’all involved with the schools: We’ve got to quit stigmatizing skills training,” Barbour said, noting that not everyone needs a college degree to earn a solid income.
He also said the U.S. “desperately needs to begin investing again in transportation infrastructure in many modes,” including highways, bridges and ports: “And all of this, I will say to my friends in the Legislature, is going to require major expenditures by the federal government and by the state government and by the private sector.”
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS, Associated Press