Mike Moore and Haley Barbour are political heavyweights and each is entirely capable of standing his own ground in their public disagreement over the use of Mississippi’s tobacco-settlement funds.
But it was shocking last week to see the state’s former attorney general standing on the steps of the Capitol leading 1,500 students bused from around the state in a chant: “Haley Barbour is hazardous to the health of Mississippi, Haley Barbour is hazardous to the health of Mississippi.”
The father of a Vancleave High School student, upon learning that his child had been involved in the well-orchestrated and highly partisan event, reacted as we would imagine many, if not most, parents and taxpayers would to the highly inappropriate activity – with anger and outrage.
Richard Cooley said the obvious: It didn’t matter which politician committed the grievance, he would have been equally upset had the governor abused his power in enlisting students in the highly personal feud between two powerful political leaders. It was just plain wrong for it to have occurred, period.
The event raises many more questions than it answers. Did school authorities and parents know in advance that the students would be used in this manner? Could it happen again? Who is responsible for approving these trips which remove so many from the classrooms and from their regular curriculum? Who paid for the cost of busing so many, in some instances over vast distances, to attend the event?
But the cost is the least significant of the concerns. The central question is this: What can be done to assure parents that their students will never again be drawn into such political controversy without their oversight and permission? And even should a parent approve of such activity, what is to protect the taxpayers of the state from a politician who chooses to enlist students in his partisan causes? Strong and immediate steps must be taken to protect us from any similar lapse in the future.
The fight between Mike Moore and Gov. Haley Barbour involves significant questions of public interest, and a fierce debate can be expected in the days ahead as these two extremely strong adversaries seek to win public support for their respective positions. Some observers believe this could be the beginning of a protracted political fight that will become the next race for governor.