PENDER – Barbour may be in good with Asia, trying with Coast

Gov. Haley Barbour returned from a two-and-a-half week trip to East Asia with some good, tentative, news that Kia Motors is eyeing Meridian to build an auto plant.

But he warned the talks are very preliminary and other states are in the hunt.

Louisiana officials have announced they are about to take a trip that includes a visit with Kia. Barbour, in fact, seemed a little surprised that Kia had leaked its interest in Meridian while he was over there.

A reporter jokingly asked Barbour if he ate any basa fish – scourge of the Mississippi catfish industry – while overseas. Barbour quipped that he didn’t go near a basa, but said he ate fish, “some of it cooked, even,” and that “most of it looked like bait.”

Here are a few other state-politics odds and ends heard or observed recently:

There’s been a good bit of House speaker talk lately, with many people speculating Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, who’s been in noticeably poor health, either won’t complete this term as speaker or won’t run for the House again in 2007. The latter is the far more likely scenario, although he’s a tough old dude, and I would not dare count him out for another term as speaker.

The main name mentioned for a successor has been Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, he of the big handlebar mustache. Although he’s a “D,” Smith often sides with the GOP House minority and Barbour, and he would be more the Republican candidate.

Depending on how the ’07 statehouse elections go, the next speaker election by House members could be a knock-down, drag-out partisan battle.

The voting machine debate has been interesting. Secretary of State Eric Clark convinced all but six of Mississippi’s 82 counties to join in the $22.5 million state contract to buy touch-screen voting computers. Jackson County is among the holdouts.

Now, I understand why some counties that have already purchased voting machines compliant with new federal regulations wanted to opt out. But I had some trouble understanding all the fear and loathing about computerized voting.

Maybe my Generation X membership is showing, but I just can’t get all worked up about a computer chip or hacker stealing my vote; not in an age where we trust our bank accounts and medical records to computers without flinching.

Nobody’s seen or heard from Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck lately; she appears to have been keeping a low profile, even as politicos have been trying to guess her future plans after she’s term-limited out in ’07.

Soon, as in next month, she won’t be able to keep such a low profile as legislative budget season begins with hearings. It’s Tuck’s turn to chair the Legislative Budget Office hearings, so she’ll be in the spotlight.

Barbour made a slight peace offering to the offshore drilling opposition last week, calling for an impact study – something anti-drillers wanted – before decisions are made. But it stops far short of the promise of an absolute moratorium extending well into federal waters that opponents want.

Barbour appears to have grown quite weary of being the poster child for offshore drilling, and he has a point when he reminds people he’s following the directives of a law passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature.

In fact, I understand some of the folks who will be speaking at the big anti-drilling rally today might be some of the self-same lawmakers who voted “Aye” on the bill that started all the turmoil.

If people are going to blast Barbour over drilling, they should at the least spread their ire to those who got the ball rolling.

Geoff Pender
Sun Herald
8/21/5