Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco announced this evening that she does not intend to seek a second term as governor. Only a few days ago, she announced her intention to run, but had a change of heart. She will be remembered as the governor who bungled both Katrina and post-Katrina, and that is not an accurate picture of her governorship.
Let me start by saying I have never been a very enthusiastic supporter of Blanco, who holds two types of views–conservative views, and non-conservative views she feels she has to hide from the public. But it was important to me that in the last election, she defeat Bush-boy Bobby Jindal, a fast-talking ex-White House bureaucrat whose views are rigidly right-wing and extreme Christian right. One of the things that helped Blanco win, in fact, was her campaign’s emphasis on Jindal’s belief that all abortions–with no exceptions of any kind–should be illegal.
Since she has been governor of Louisiana, Blanco’s activities have fallen into three areas: 1. stupid things she is said to have done which she did not do; 2. stupid things she did do; and 3. good things she did for which she received no credit.
A victim of an especially vicious Rovian campaign during Hurricane Katrina, Governor Blanco was simply not guilty of most of the accusations of incompetence hurled at her. The record bears this out, but many Louisianians, looking for a scapegoat and refusing to believe that George W. Bush would abandon them, were quick to jump on the “blame Blanco” bandwagon. She never recovered from the smear campaign.
Later, she put her name on the “Road Home” program created by the Louisiana Recovery Authority, and that name has stuck. The Road Home–better known as the Road to Nowhere– has to be one of the most mishandled, user-unfriendly, ghastly government programs to come around in a long time. People who had no houses and had to live out of state in order to make money were told that they would not get Road Home funds, even though they wanted to return to Louisiana. Thousands of people who signed up for the program were asked to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops, it was like dealing with FEMA all over again.
Applicants waited and waited, but no money came. Finally, after months, most of them received letters telling them they had been turned down, or giving them checks for a very small amount. Some were turned down for not having houses, though their houses were standing, plain as day. When the frustrated, enraged citizens placed calls to find out what had gone wrong, they were repeatedly told “I don’t know,” “I can’t answer that,” and “I have no idea” by contract employees whose company, hired by Blanco, botched the entire program.
The final blow came last week when HUD’s federal office declared that Louisiana was wrongly requiring homeowners to wait for a series of small reimbursements rather than giving them the option of taking a lump sum. According to HUD, the state’s method of distributing the money would trigger long delays for environmental and other regulations.
Finally, on to the good things. Blanco is the first governor in Louisiana history to stand up to the federal government and demand that Louisiana receive its fair share of oil and gas revenues. Blanco threatened to not permit any leases until the state receives its rightful share (which would, by the way, turn Louisiana’s fate around dramatically).
Blanco also stood up to the federal government over the issue of Louisiana’s environment, something else Louisianians do not see from their governors (the governor who proceeded Blanco became famous for helping to trash the environment). She was successful in halting a scheduled offshore lease sale because the federal government’s assessment of the sale failed to include environmental damage done by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. She also vetoed a proposed natural gas port because whose construction would have hurt Gulf fisheries, and forced the energy company to change its design to a closed loop system port.
Rep. Jindal is again running for governor of Louisiana, and the Democratic candidate may be former Sen. John Breaux, who is now a lobbyist, and who periodically loves to tease the state with talk that he may run for governor. This time, he may really do it, Breaux is very popular in Louisiana and he already has a state health plan ready to present.
For her part, Blanco made a total mess of Louisiana’s post-Katrina efforts. But she is not the completely incompetent, clueless governor that Karl Rove and the news media would have us believe.