Saturday, December 03, 2005

Louisiana got an image problem, Landrieu ain't helping.

Nation: That $250 billion request and Mary Landrieu obnoxious behavior is coming back to bite the state in its bid to get dollars.

"....I question the political tactics of basically 'kicking our state' while it is down," Lt. Gov. Mitchell J. Landrieu, the senator's brother, wrote in a letter he sent to every member of Congress in October. "We have lost 40% of our businesses. At least 1,035 of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors have died…. Yet, in the media, at the office water cooler, at the family dinner table and even in the hallways of the Capitol, we have been made to feel corrupt, selfish and unworthy of aid." Veteran members of Congress say they cannot remember another humanitarian issue that started out with such sympathy on Capitol Hill and then lost support so rapidly. "I don't think I have ever seen an issue flip so quickly as this did," said Rep. John J. "Jimmy" Duncan Jr. (R-Tenn.), chairman of a key subcommittee involved in reconstruction efforts. After the hurricane hit Aug. 29, "there was a nationwide outpouring of tremendous sympathy for the first two or three weeks," he said. "Then, most people around the country seemed to feel that we were sending too much money too fast to that area, and there was great concern that some or much of it might be spent in scandalous or wasteful ways." Many lawmakers, some of them Louisianans, say the shift began in mid-September, when Sens. Landrieu and David Vitter (R-La.) unveiled a $250-billion, 20-year reconstruction plan for their state. Dubbed the Pelican Project, the legislative package drew denunciations as a baldfaced grab by Louisianians for as much federal aid as they could get. "That package was overreaching, and taken by many to be a sign of Louisiana trying to take advantage of the opportunity, of being a little greedy," said Rep. Jim McCrery (R-La.). "You overlay that on top of … a subtext that Louisiana has a reputation for being somewhat corrupt — New Orleans particularly — and you lay all of that over the deficit…. It all combined to make the perfect storm for addressing the disaster in a way that probably is less robust and less timely than I would have preferred."
Hell, people in the state of Louisiana are happy to kick New Orleans around.
"Now, with the city's population dispersed — and no indication of whether, or when, most residents will return — some lawmakers hope they are witnessing a permanent reversal of fortunes, said Elliot Stonecipher, a political analyst based in Shreveport. "Even good people are quietly sitting back, not lending their support to the rebuilding of New Orleans," Stonecipher said. "What you're seeing is a lot of people snickering and winking and nodding…. This is something they thought they would never see."
But back to the LATIMES story, Landrieu is passing the buck, other officials want to start a fight they cannot win while other LA officials are trying regain some momentum before it gets too late.
Sen. Landrieu said she did not believe that her actions, or those of anyone else in the state's congressional delegation, were to blame for what she saw as the federal government's failure to respond to Louisiana's needs. "I'm not sure it was ever the intention of this administration to really help," she said. "I would say that really it's a pattern of this administration to promise a lot and deliver very little — to pretend like you care, but when it comes down to really putting your money where your mouth is, it doesn't happen." Months after the hurricane, many survivors still are living in hotels and other temporary shelters, and many remain financially devastated. "I'm ready to start a revolution," said former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.). "This is an absolute outrage. Here we are in Month 4 of a terrible, terrible tragedy, and other than hotel rooms and meals-ready-to-eat and some reconstruction, we haven't gotten squat." Now a lobbyist in Washington, Livingston has joined other former Louisiana lawmakers to press congressional leaders to help the state. They plan an intensified push next week, when the House reconvenes, to try to wrest more money from Congress before Christmas. "Has the mood soured? Yes," Livingston said. "But are we just going to write off an entire region of the country? Congress ought to get their damned act in order and un-sour it." Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.), has mounted a petition drive demanding that the federal government move more quickly. He hopes to get 100,000 signatures and then organize hurricane survivors for a march on Washington to demand congressional action. Other Louisianians are concentrating on proving to legislators that their cause is just and that they are trustworthy, said Louisiana Recovery Authority Vice Chairman Walter Isaacson, whom Gov. Blanco appointed. "We have to earn our credibility back," said Isaacson, a native of New Orleans who heads the nonpartisan Aspen Institute think tank and used to be chairman of CNN. "We sort of squandered our credibility … so we have to be very prudent and say now: 'Here are our priorities.' " After months of bickering among themselves and introducing competing pieces of legislation, Louisiana's congressional delegates are working together to craft bills and narrow its requests, Isaacson said. "We're not asking for $250 billion anymore," he said. "We're asking for things that at most would total one-fifth of that. Most of the rebuilding will have to be done by the people in Louisiana; we know that. But we are asking: Give us a pledge that we will have protection along the Gulf Coast in general against Category 5 storms."

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