Thursday, 27 March 2014 19:25

Roemer, Edwards: Katrina criticism of Blanco was unfair

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In part 3 of Bayoubuzz's replay of the Loyola University Institute of Politics Ed Renwick annual discussion, moderator Lee Zurik asked two questions regarding a topic that might resonate throughout Louisiana history-- Hurricane Katrina and Governor Kathleen Blanco.   Below is a rough transcript of the conversation with Governors Blanco, Buddy Roemer and Edwin Edwards.  Also, here is the audio:

The next question is for Governor Blanco. Probably almost everyone in this room was affected by Katrina. Looking back on it, have you been able to have a kind of revisiting, a kind of looking back and thinking about things you did well and things you would have done differently? 

 Blanco: Well, Katrina turned everyone's world upside down, more so for people who were directly affected than for me. My role in that aftermath was first to make sure that all those who were in peril were brought to safety. I think we did a magnificent job with the early evacuation process. It had been pre-planned, and it worked well. There were about 35-40 000 who stayed behind. The challenge in those first days became to rescue and evacuate them. Some people had to stay because they were public safety people. In the aftermath of that original period, my next challenge was to go to Washington D.C. I felt very distraught about the way we were greeted. There was very little appetite for helping Louisiana. We were accused of a lot of things, but we definitely needed federal assistance. If we didn’t have it, many of you wouldn’t be here. I had to fight very hard and go back to Washington. There were political decisions concerning money distribution that never should have been made. By the end of my period as Governor, we had been able to get the building blocks for an adequate recovery process. We brought home 29 billion dollars from the federal government, some for levy restoration and some for housing. Many people were distressed because their homeowner’s insurance and their flood insurance were limited. Without the federal money, they wouldn’t have been able to rebuild their houses.

Zurik: Let me ask Governor Roemer this. Blanco took some criticism. Do you think part of it was unfair? It was a huge catastrophe. You had a Republican President and a Democratic Governor, which could have had some influence. Do you think the criticism was unfair, and do you think you could have done a better job as Governor? 

Roemer: It was absolutely unfair. No one was prepared for this catastrophe. Storm after storm is predicted. Usually they all go away; this one stayed. It overwhelmed the local government, the state government, and the federal government. So in effect, all the people in leadership positions deserve some criticism, but it was mostly highly unusual circumstances. Was she treated unfairly? There’s no question about it! Kathleen was caught. All the circumstances that could go against her did go against her. I was here speaking to incoming freshmen at Tulane only days before the storm hit, and at that time, it was just another storm. A lot of people were going to stay. I think Kathleen has assumed the blame unfairly. But I can tell her now, I think she did one hell of a job. 

Edwards: If something like Katrina happens in the rest of the country, the federal government rushes in immediately and does what they need to do. It was very unfair to criticize Kathleen that way. I empathize with her.

Blanco: Just before I was leaving office, a couple of reporters asked to do an interview. They asked if there was anything I would have done differently. I answered, “If I would have realized how important party was to disaster management, I would have immediately become a Republican. In that one instant, I would have been the most brilliant governor. I would have received so many compliments just for that one political change. And I would have done that to save my people. But I didn't realize just how partisan this disaster management became. We all know that Washington is politically divided, but Louisiana has never operated that intensely, to the general benefit of our citizens. It took all of us by surprise. 

Zurik: Have you talked to George Bush since he left office? 

Blanco: I have. He was in Lafayette last year. George Bush and I have a very good relationship. He was badly managed. He had political people around him allowing his good common sense to drain. The politics got in the way. 

Zurik: So you don't blame him?

Blanco: Well, I blame him for hiring political people.

(Photo: Bayoubuzz photo taken at the University of New Orleans months after Hurricane Katrina)

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