Response to NYT article on Louisiana’s governor

From Harry …

Thanks for the article. We call her “Meemaw”. There have been some wild editorials in the local paper saying “Meemaw’s tranq’d” . One writer wanted to send the national guard in to free Edwin Edwards from the federal pen so he could be brought back to save La. We know he will steal so we just factor in a percentage for graft! Meemaw had difficulty making deciisons even before the hurricane. This is the 5th governor I have wowrked for and this has been the most unproductive, unchartered time even pre-Katrina. There are Meemaw recall petitions circulating now. Hopefully she will be able to be a help in rebuilding, but so far she has done nothing.

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  1. After Storm, She Tries to Mend State, and Career

    New York Times

    BATON ROUGE, La., Dec. 22 – She is struggling to rebuild a shattered state. But along the way, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco of Louisiana is also working to repair a wounded reputation – her own.

    She has been mocked as weepy and indecisive by radio talk show hosts who deride her as “momma governor.” She has feuded with the White House, which did not invite her to a recent announcement on levee protection. She has been criticized on Capitol Hill by Republicans as having made a “dysfunctional” response to Hurricane Katrina.

    And through it all, Ms. Blanco, a 63-year-old Democrat, has found herself dogged by invidious comparisons to a certain mayor of New York whose stand-tall image after Sept. 11, 2001, seems to have become the one that all elected officials are expected to duplicate during a crisis.

    “People can’t stop comparing her to Rudy Giuliani,” said State Representative Troy M. Hebert, a Democrat from Jeanerette. “When 9/11 came, he looked like he was doing something. I’m not sure he was. But he looked like it.”

    But Ms. Blanco is fighting back. She points to several important victories in a special legislative session last month – including the state takeover of New Orleans’s failing schools – as evidence of decisive action. And she is planning a media blitz, using weekly newspaper columns and regular radio appearances to outline her reconstruction plans.

    In an interview at the white-pillared governor’s mansion, built by Huey P. Long in the 1930’s, Ms. Blanco dismissed some of the criticism against her as sexist. “I’m not a guy,” she said. “I can’t be Rudy, whatever that is.”

    But she asserted that she was far tougher than her critics allowed, noting that when she used phrases like “locked and loaded,” it was because she knew how to handle a gun. And she said her compassion for hurricane victims – shaped by the loss of a son in a construction accident nine years ago – has been misconstrued as weakness.

    “Sometimes people think you are falling down when you are the only one standing,” she said.

    The question now is whether Ms. Blanco can regain enough political traction to lead her state out of its trauma. A post-hurricane poll showed that only 19 percent of voters would definitely support her for re-election in 2007. The depopulation of New Orleans, her party’s base, has emboldened Republicans. And some Democrats question whether she has a vision for reconstruction, beyond the laundry list of needs she ticks off in news releases.

    “She’s got problems facing her,” said Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster. “I don’t know if any governor could survive this.”

    In public, Ms. Blanco, who was born in the tiny Cajun community of Coteau, comes across as soft-spoken and uncomfortable in the spotlight. By contrast, her husband, Raymond, is a colorful former college football coach who stalks the sidelines of her office muttering comedic profanities.

    But friends and foes say Ms. Blanco’s gentle style belies steeliness and determination. As a young woman, she quit teaching to raise six children, and now has seven grandchildren. Later, she and her husband opened a polling firm, and she also worked on the 1980 census. Those experiences exposed her to local politicians, virtually all of whom were male.

    “I began to realize none of the women of my world had stepped forward to run for office,” Ms. Blanco said.

    Resolved to change that, she ran for an open state representative seat against the wife of a wealthy businessman. Outspent by more than five to one, she won, and has not lost an election since.

    After serving two terms as lieutenant governor, Ms. Blanco ran for governor in 2003, narrowly winning the crowded primary by running as a pro-business centrist. In the runoff against Republican Piyush Jindal, Ms. Blanco was behind in polls in the final weeks of the campaign. But she battled back with commercials that strongly attacked Mr. Jindal’s tenure as state health secretary, and won by four points.

    As governor, she consolidated her power by pushing aside legislative leaders who opposed her. Mr. Hebert lost a powerful committee chairmanship when he voted against her plan to raise a business tax. He dubbed her Queen Bee, a play on Long’s nickname, the Kingfish.

    “People underestimate her as this nice grandmother figure,” said Mr. Hebert, who has found himself back in Ms. Blanco’s good graces. “But she can be very tough.”

    But the impression of Ms. Blanco’s toughness seemed to fade with the floodwaters. In recent weeks, Republicans on a select Congressional committee investigating the response to the hurricane have argued that Ms. Blanco’s staff seemed obsessed with politics, public relations and criticizing the Bush administration, using e-mail messages released by the governor’s office as evidence.

    In one message, an aide wrote that Ms. Blanco could not take a call from Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, because she might have been napping. (Her staff said she was actually working but out of reach.) In another, a consultant offered Liz Claiborne clothes “that look kind of Eddie Bauer, but with class,” to help Ms. Blanco look like she was “doing something ‘physical.’ ”

    In yet another, Ms. Blanco’s spokeswoman, Denise Bottcher, raised concerns that Ms. Blanco, whom she calls KBB, “is doing too many ‘first lady’ things and not enough John Wayne. Women are easily portrayed as weak which KBB has had a hard time over coming. I will say again … men cry – compassion: women cry – weak.”

    Ms. Bottcher said she ignored the offer of Liz Claiborne clothes. And she said her John Wayne e-mail message was in response to the daily derision of male radio talk show hosts who disliked Ms. Blanco’s public displays of emotion.

    Ms. Blanco has been blunt in blaming the White House for starting what she called “the mantra” of criticism against her. But Congressional Republicans, in part trying to deflect widespread criticism of the Bush administration’s actions after the hurricane, have expressed dismay with what they consider her unwillingness to accept responsibility for a weak response to the disaster.

    In a Dec. 14 hearing, Republicans peppered Ms. Blanco with questions about why she did not order a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans and why she resisted President’s Bush’s proposal to federalize national guard troops.

    Ms. Blanco returned their fire gamely. When Representative Jeff Miller, Republican of Florida, called it “not acceptable” that Louisiana had suffered 1,100 deaths in one storm, “one-half of the men and women that we have lost in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Ms. Blanco shot back, “Then it’s not acceptable for us to lose 52 soldiers either,” referring to the state’s losses in Iraq.

    Some Republicans and nonpartisan analysts said her performance seemed defensive and did not help her cause in Washington. But Ms. Blanco asserted that Louisianians loved her sharp retorts, which were broadcast live on many local radio and television stations.

    “People have a whole new appreciation for what I’ve been dealing with,” she said. “They wanted someone to stand up for Louisiana.”

    Ms. Blanco has been similarly upbeat in describing the special legislative session she called last month. She had been criticized as slow to call the session and then for offering a long agenda of more than 70 items.

    But in the end, she won several major victories: budget cuts totaling more than $600 million, Louisiana’s first statewide building code, new power for a state coastal protection authority to oversee hurricane protection projects, and the New Orleans school takeover bill.

    Still, Ms. Blanco has come under fire for not throwing her weight behind legislation proposed by State Senator Walter J. Boasso, a Republican from Arabi, that would consolidate levee boards in the New Orleans area. The boards, which oversee levee maintenance, are considered corrupt and inefficient, and many experts believe they must be revamped or combined before the levee system can be improved.

    Angered by inaction on Senator Boasso’s bill, a grass-roots organization in New Orleans gathered 45,000 signatures demanding a special session to enact levee consolidation. And the New Orleans Business Council took out full-page newspaper advertisements advocating the bill’s passage.

    Many political analysts viewed Ms. Blanco’s failure to support Senator Boasso’s bill as evidence of her plodding, cautious approach to government.

    “There really is this growing sense that there is this absolutely terrible lack of leadership in the state that is hurting us at every turn,” said Elliott B. Stonecipher, a nonpartisan pollster from Shreveport.

    Ms. Blanco defended her legislation, which authorized the Office of Coastal Restoration and Management to withhold money from poorly performing levee boards, as superior to Mr. Boasso’s. But she said she was leaning toward calling a special session in late January to enact levee consolidation.

    Her greatest challenge may be surviving Louisiana politics. The legislative black caucus, an important ally, is angry with her for enacting deep budget cuts. At the same time, the state Republican Party continues to criticize her, recently issuing bumper stickers that read, “Don’t blame me, I voted for Jindal.”

    And even many Democrats may not be solid supporters. Several legislators who are barred by term limits from seeking re-election in 2007 are considering challenging her. Lt. Gov. Mitchell J. Landrieu, brother of Senator Mary L. Landrieu, is also considered a potential candidate.

    “There is blood in the water, and the sharks are circling,” Mr. Hebert said.

    But Ms. Blanco says she has time to recover.

    “The whole story has not been told yet, and it will be told,” she said. “All I can do is rebuild. And if we do it well and help as many people as we can, that will have its payoffs.”

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