Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (Pic by Gage Skidmore, via Flickr)

The Republican Party of Sarasota County will host its 2011 “Statesman of the Year” dinner later this month, at which the party will honor Mississippi Gov. — and once-rumored presidential contender — Haley Barbour.

Barbour, who helped found the D.C.-based lobbying firm BGR Group, was rumored to be considering a presidential run as early as 2010. The Mississippi governor also made trips to Florida and South Carolina and told wealthy Republican donors to “keep their powder dry” till he decided whether he would run.

In the end, Barbour didn’t launch a presidential campaign — likely because his political career has been steeped in controversy in recent years.

In his home state, Barbour landed in hot water following comments he made praising the pro-segregation Citizens Council. He also told the Weekly Standard that he didn’t remember the Civil Rights Era as “being that bad,” a comment that created a strong backlash.

In February, Barbour again found himself ensnared in a racially charged controversy after he refused to denounce a proposed state license plate that would honor Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and early Ku Klux Klan leader. When pressed for comment by the NAACP, Barbour said, “I don’t go around denouncing people.”

The “Statesmen of the Year” dinner will be held on Nov. 27. Tickets to the event range from $150 (for an individual ticket) to $3,000 (to be a table sponsor).

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