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62nd Governor of Mississippi
I served two consecutive terms as Governor of Mississippi, and was Governor when the worst natural disaster in American history, Hurricane Katrina, hit our state. My new book, “America’s Great Storm” was published in August, and it details the challenges Mississippi faced as we worked to recover from and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. I previously served as Chairman of the Republican Governor Association; as Chairman of the Republican National Committee, managing the 1994 Republican surge to GOP control of both Houses of Congress; and as White House Political Director under President Ronald Reagan. I am also the founding partner of BGR Group, a Washington DC-based government relations firm.

I look forward to your questions about my book “America’s Great Storm”, the process of the disaster recovery and leadership.
This Q&A took place between 9/29/15 and 10/6/15. Unanswered questions have been hidden
15 questions
Senior Fellow for Innovation at Alliance for Peacebuilding

I like Parlio because it wants to be a place where people like the two of us can "meet." We are about the same age and have offices about 10 blocks apart. But, we are politically as different as can be which leads to two overlapping questions.

As a leading Republican who will no doubt play a role in determining the party's post-Boehner future, what can you do to make debate in this town more civil?

Similarly, what can I do--as a good 1960s leftist--to do the same on my end of the spectrum?

No pressure or deadline for an answer, but before December 11 would help.
In our two-party system historically both parties have been large, diverse groups, and that is a strength for our country. Yet in recent years our politics has become very polarized, with Democrats moving farther to the left and Republicans farther to the right. Instead of working with Congress as Reagan and Clinton did during long periods of divided government, President Obama has chosen to go around Congress via executive actions, some of which appear and have been found to violate the constitutional separation of powers. My suggestion to both parties is to realize your party should be a broad coalition, one that about 60% of American voters would consider supporting, if not joining. This is not only good electoral politics, it also allows for good governance and successful legislative policy making, something that has been sorely missing the last few years.
Product Guy / Fellow @ Harvard Ash Center
Syrian refugees are going through major atrocities. If you were the President of the United States, what would you've done differently to address this crisis? Do you think the US should grant some of them asylum?
The issue of granting asylum should be based on the capacity of our government to screen out terrorists and other security risks. The premature withdrawal of appropriate U.S. forces from Iraq and now Afghanistan created the opening for ISIS and others. It should not be overlooked that the de-Ba’athification program employed by Paul Bremer in Iraq, despite the views of the U.S. military, hurt Iraq’s chances of establishing stable self-government after 2003. The 2006-2007 surge, with the support of Sunni tribes in Anbar, brought renewed hope for a stable government but the premature withdrawal by U.S. forces by this administration left what could have been permanent allies to the United States feeling abandoned. A withdrawal of forces, based on domestic politics not the facts on the ground, created a vacuum filled by ISIS and by Shia forces in Iraq and Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.
Senior Lecturer at Bush School of Texas A&M University
How do you define and think about leadership? Who do you consider the top political leaders -- those who you admire most? How did you learn how to lead?
Thanks Governor.
Leaders win the confidence of those whom they lead in many ways: knowledge of subject matter, willingness to make decisions, effectively communicating, judgment, trustworthiness and so on. The best leaders built strong teams; they trust their teams and delegate authority as well as responsibility to team members; nobody I know ever made it by him or herself. Leaders spread around the credit for success and accept the blame for failure. Good leaders make decisions, and, when they make bad ones, which they inevitably will, they change those decisions if they don’t work out as expected. Good leaders aren’t afraid to admit they were wrong. This is a facet of the leaders’ being trustworthy and telling the truth. A strong leader trusts his or her team and his or her followers enough to tell them the truth.
I admire Ronald Reagan, who knew how to delegate and focused on the biggest issues. My old White House boss Mitch Daniels, later Governor of Indiana, was another excellent leader.
I learned about leadership from my mother, who raised my two older brothers and me; from team sports as a boy, including from several coaches; from other family members and from a life in politics.
Researcher @ Harvard | Parlio community manager
Governor Barbour, thank you so much for taking our questions. If Hurricane Katrina did not take place, and you had the option to channel the time and money to direct elsewhere, what are some other political, social, and economic priorities that you would like to have focused on?
If your question is, “What would I have done to help Mississippi?”, the answer is I would have put the resources primarily into economic development: from workforce skills training to infrastructure, to education more broadly, but particularly K-3 reading as well as an accelerated secondary achievement and post-secondary.
Governor Barbour, thank you for your spirited and consistent support of comprehensive immigration reform. What do you think is the most significant impact immigrants had on your state during your term as Governor and whose immigration ideas are you impressed with among the 2016 GOP candidates?
My interest in and focus on immigration reform resulted from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Large numbers of Spanish-speakers poured into the worst hit area of South Mississippi and the Gulf Coast and worked tirelessly, often living under terrible conditions. I can’t imagine how much less progress would have been achieved were it not for these immigrants.
Mississippi does not have as large an immigrant population as some other states, but our immigrants are productive. From Indian-American physicians to Mexican workers in our boiler industry to Vietnamese fishermen, immigrants work hard, take care of their families and contribute to our economy.
But we need a better legal immigration system as well as far better enforcement of our immigration laws, including border security and visa enforcement. People here illegally need a system to admit their guilt, pay a fine and court costs and, if they pass a background check and have paid their taxes, they should be put on probation for a significant period of years. They would be legally in the United States as long as they did not violate probation, could work in the United States and leave and return to the United States if they care to. They would get no special path to citizenship but after successful completion of probation could apply for a green card and get in line for that and subsequently citizenship like any other immigrant.
I am particularly interested in what happened in New Orleans post-Katrina. I understand Governor Barbour, that you are an advocate of the "new urbanism," that you are committed to creating well-functioning and well-designed neighborhoods and communities as a means to improve city life. Do you feel New Orleans is applying these principles and, if so, are all the neighborhoods benefitting equally? And to add one more question, if I may: What can other urban communities learn from the experiences you, your state, and New Orleans have had in attempting to rebuild?
I’m not familiar enough with the details of what is happening with New Orleans to have an opinion.
Corporate Lawyer; Libertarian; Enneagram 8; ETSJ
Governor Barbour, You’ve been involved in politics for a long time so have seen the extraordinary growth in Federal authority. Do you think that the individual States’ sovereignty is important to balance Federal power? While you were Governor, did the governors of the several States ever discuss the doctrine of nullification and resisting Federal assertions of authority? If the answer to the foregoing is no, then what acts would you say that the Republicans should take (at a State level) to resist the size and reach of the Federal government?
The federal government today exercises far too much power compared to the states. This phenomenon has developed over decades but has greatly accelerated under the Obama Administration.
While I’m unaware of Governors discussing nullification, many states have aggressively opposed federal usurpation of states’ authority, including challenging, often successfully, federal legislative and, particularly, executive actions. Several such cases are ongoing. Government would function most effectively and efficiently if it were more limited, and especially if federal intrusion on individual freedom and states’ authority were better protected from federal usurpation.
I believe in the doctrine of subsidiarity: the government closest to the people governs best.
Gov't Relations/Communications Director, Harvard Ash Center
Governor Barbour,
While FEMA's immediate response to Katrina was widely lambested (fairly or unfairly so), in the aftermath of the storm, there was broad political consensus at the time that significant federal disaster recovery dollars would be needed to restore the battered Gulf Coast. If a similar storm happened today in our more toxic political climate, do you think we would see the same level on consensus? Would voices in Congress demand politically unpalatable offsets to pass a theoretical multi-billion recovery package as was proposed by some after Hurrican Sandy?
The experience with Sandy makes me think Congress would overwhelmingly support large, special emergency funding with another negotiation. The political environment was as “toxic” then as now, with a divided government and a polarizing president.
Remember in 2005, after Katrina, as well as in early 2012, there was considerable though unsuccessful support for offsets.
Thanks for answering our questions! Given your extensive experience as a leader in the Republican Party, where do you see the party in 10 years? Do you think the party's current balance between social and economic issues will change as demographics and interests in the country shift?
The Republican Party is the conservative party of the United States, and the Democratic Party is the liberal party. That has been the case all my life, and I don’t see it changing.
What has changed is that there is so much more polarization between the two parties. The center of the Democratic Party has moved farther to the left, and the center of the GOP to the right. This is particularly true as it relates to Washington and federal issues.
The Republican Party is still diverse and broad. It is successful, with 31 of 50 governors and majorities not only in both Houses of Congress but in most state legislative bodies. There are few significant policy differences within the party but tactical/process differences are very apparent and often strident, particularly in Congress and on federal issues. These may present campaign problems in 2016, but I think dislike of the left’s policies and the results of those policies will unite Republicans next year, despite internal, tactical friction.
Ten years from now I believe there will still be Republicans whose main focus on issues varies: Economic issues, social issues, national security, foreign policy, etc. They have generally worked together from Reagan’s election until quite recently. As a pro-life Evangelical Christian, I recognize younger people who are Republicans are more liberal on social issues than I but I don’t see that upsetting the essential parity between the two parties that exists today. Ours is a big party, and you don’t have to agree with Haley Barbour on everything to be a good Republican. In a party whose candidate for president received about 60 million votes in 2012, it is silly to think everybody in one party will agree on everything. Plus, in the two-party system purity is the enemy of victory.
As a leader with an experience at the top level in lobbying as well as in politics, could you tell us how to best cope, for a Governor, with an environmental disaster caused by a top employer in the State?
Act as immediately as possible to help anyone injured, to eliminate any risk to people and property, and to establish needed security. Keep calm, but tell the truth about damages and risks; don’t sugarcoat it or dramatize it. The public needs to know the facts as quickly as possible but avoid speculation or rumor mongering.
Once the facts are established, which will likely take a while, develop a plan to prevent any reoccurrence at the expense of the appropriate party. Take any action appropriate for failure to follow the law or regulations in effect at the time of the event. Enforce the law but don’t let it be a political witch hunt.
The environmental goal of government should be to grow the economy and create good jobs in an environmentally appropriate way.

With your experience with Hurricane Katrina what is your advise to government leaders in emergency prone areas across the world.

And how do you deal with corrupt governments which can enhance the effects of natural emergencies?

I'm a humanitarian worker myself and has often problems dealing with local authorities who dont want to take the responsibility needed. Any advice on dealing with local government?

How do we transfer the lessons learned from Katrina to other actors in the world?

I think your experience and book can assist people across the world.
Preparation is the first key to dealing with the megadisaster. Develop a plan well in advance, train and practice implementation of the plan and put the plan into effect as soon as practicable.
In Katrina our local governments realized someone had to be in charge, and the logical person was the Governor. Although many of the local officials were Democrats and I was a Republican, they all became part of our unified command, and it worked well.
Governour Barbour,

As a Swedish Conservative, I'm very happy to have this opportunity to ask you a question! The question is perhaps slightly off-topic since this Q&A is about your book, but I'm a great fan of President Ronald Reagan and I would really like to know: What was it, in your opinion, that made him such a successful President?

Thank you!
President Reagan was my old boss, as I ran the White House Political office for him in the mid-80’s. He was a great president, who knew how to lead in divided government: The Democrats had a large majority in the House every day he was president. Yet he got passed and signed many important, complex, and contentious laws, including the Reagan economic plan in 1981, Social Security reform, immigration reform and the 1986 Tax Reform bill. And much more.
He did it by leading. He worked with the Congress, including the Democrats. He knew how to compromise and when to compromise. He compromised on virtually every significant law that was passed during his presidency. As an old union president he would not negotiate against himself, and he knew when he had the best deal he would get. If it advanced his goals and got most of what he wanted, he took it. He would say, “A fellow who agrees with you 80% of the time is your friend and ally, not a 20% traitor.” And he was a very nice, considerate man.
Governor Barbour,

Carly Fiorina (R) plans to run for the presidency on her record at Hewlett-Packard, 'crediting her role as a business leader with preparing her to make the decisions required of a world leader — no matter how tough they might be. '

Asked what she learned, she said, “…when you lead, when you challenge the status quo, you are gonna make enemies. It is the nature of leadership, … "

Do you agree and, if so, is that what it takes to be a good president?

Thank you for being here today.
Good leaders may make enemies, but I do not consider making enemies “a must” for a good leader.
Alan Greenspan once wrote that America was a wonderful place because you could rise to the top without ever having to step on someone else to punch them down. I believe that Greenspan was right about that. In my experience Ronald Reagan, the greatest president of my lifetime, didn’t subscribe to the “gotta make enemies” theory.
Global Markets Editor at Fox Business Network
Thank you Governor Barbour for answering our questions. I have two:

1) How do you believe the next president can create jobs? What is the secret sauce to creating jobs and growth in the U.S. economy? Why has it been so hard to achieve?

2) Why has it been so difficult for republicans and dem's to get along these last few years? It feels like because of animosity among them, nothing gets done and that's not right. I think POTUS also takes sides.
The dismally slow growth of the economy during the Obama recovery is a result of bad policy: Excessive government spending that results in more government growth instead of private sector growth; large tax increases that suck money out of the private sector; a growth of U.S. government debt by nearly three-fourths in less than seven years; and greatly increased regulatory burdens that drive up private sector costs and undermine economic growth.
The results: Since the Obama recovery began more than six years ago, GDP growth has averaged only 2.2% annually, while GDP growth after the last deep recession ended in 1982 was 4.8% annually on average over the same length of time; only 48.5% of adult Americans have a full-time job today; the labor force participation rate is the lowest since 1977; and median household income is 6.5% less than it was in 2007. No wonder half of Americans think we’re still in a recession.
Our government’s policies should favor growth of the private economy and not of the government. We need tax reform for both individual and corporate taxpayers, including lower rates, simplification, establishing a territorial tax system that brings more of the foreign profits of U.S. companies home, and much more. Let people keep more of what they earn and decide how to spend and invest that money rather than the government taking it.
Less federal spending that results in balanced budgets within no more than ten years will help the economy to keep interest rates remarkably low without seven years of zero interest rates engineered by the Fed. Finally rational regulation that is based on sound science, real risk assessment and honest cost-benefit analysis will allow much more growth for businesses small as well as large.
To answer your second question, we are in an unprecedented era where the party politics are both at parity and extraordinarily polarized. The difficulty in passing important legislation (Congress hasn’t passed a budget with the statutorial appropriations bills in years) is not simply a result of divided government. Presidents Reagan and Clinton both presided over divided governments (Reagan never had a GOP House of Representatives; Clinton had a fully GOP Congress for six years) and were very successful in passing major, complex and contentious legislation: They led; President Obama has not attempted to lead Congress in a bipartisan way, but has instead chosen to avoid Congress and try to achieve his goals by executive action.
The next president will need to lead Congress if our economic and national security problems are to be addressed. The Democrats will still be the liberal party, and the Republicans, the conservative party; but to reduce the severe polarity, the middle must be rebuilt in Washington so that its size is representative of the center in the country’s population. I believe we are a center-right country, and a successful administration would reflect that.
As you know, 14 out of the 100 most impoverished counties in the US are located in Mississippi, which itself is ranked 50th in median household income ($36,338) compared to California ($61,021).

During and following the Katrina disaster It is well known that the poverty in Mississippi exacerbated the situation immensely. Would things have been different if Mississippi was wealthier or if the inequality was't so great?
Katrina was an equal opportunity destroyer; it did not discriminate based on wealth, race, age or anything else, except geography, and even with location Mississippi had hurricane force winds 200 miles inland and nearly a third of the fatalities were not on the Coast.
The storm surge that devastated the Gulf Coast was the greatest in the history of meteorology, according to the National Weather Service, and it destroyed many thousands of homes that were middle class and above as well as many that were homes of low and moderate income renters as well as homeowners. If the Coast of Mississippi were like many Florida beach communities, with rows of high-rise condominium buildings, the damage would certainly have been different, but our Coast is one of very few coastal areas where low-moderate income people had homes within a block or two of the beach in several areas. Katrina has eliminated some but not all of that.
If everything Katrina destroyed in 2005 had been built to today’s building code standards and if all homes had been elevated above the new federally delineated floor plain elevations all across the Coast, the destruction would have been reduced considerably but not eliminated.