McClatchy – Barbour changes tune on oil spill

GULFPORT, Miss. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s oil-leak message appears to have changed from “nothing to worry about here folks” to “we’ve had a wakeup call,” and he has engaged his secret weapon – first lady Marsha Barbour, much beloved on the Coast for her work with Hurricane Katrina recovery.

For more than a month, Barbour’s main talking points on the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe have been aimed at promoting tourism – saying over and over that the Coast remains open for business, the national media is overblowing the disaster, that Mississippi shores might not see any oil, and that tar balls are just a minor nuisance for beachgoers to wash off their feet.

But as BP’s efforts to plug its gushing well have continued to fail and oil has begun washing ashore in Mississippi, Alabama and potentially Florida this week, that message appeared to be grating on the nerves of many Mississippi Gulf Coast residents. It was beginning to seem that the governor, and the chiefs of his environmental agencies, had their external message for tourists confused with the internal message the Coast wanted to hear – that state government is taking this threat seriously.

Of note: On Wednesday, for the first time, Barbour made it through an entire press conference in Gulfport without saying people should come on down and enjoy beaches, golfing, fishing and seafood.

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6/2/10