Shreveport paper: Disaster carries major stakes for governor's political future
Disaster carries major stakes for governor's political
September 5, 2005
By BARRY JOHNSON
BATON ROUGE -- Disasters push the limits of people's
strength and resolve. They also put political leaders
to the test.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani earned widespread
praise for his determination and firm guidance in the
wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The destruction Hurricane Katrina unleashed on New
Orleans and southeastern Louisiana has put Gov.
Kathleen Blanco on a political hot seat. Assessments
are mixed regarding Blanco's response and how it will
affect her political career.
Political analyst Elliott Stonecipher of Shreveport
said the question of whether the state was prepared
for the storm -- and whether it responded effectively
-- could be asked of many state officials other than
Blanco. But he said the governor will face scrutiny.
"It's going to be difficult for the governor to
explain away, No. 1, the absence of essentials in New
Orleans," Stonecipher said. "It's going to be
difficult in the long term to explain how the state
response was obviously inadequate."
Pearson Cross, assistant professor at the University
of Louisiana-Lafayette, believes Blanco has
demonstrated positive leadership, but he expects some
second-guessing stemming from complaints of slow
response to the crisis.
"I think she has focused on the disaster, and she's
doing everything she can," Cross said. "I think she's
Larry Sabato has a different perspective. The director
for the Center of Politics at the University of
Virginia said Blanco seemed "overwhelmed and
dithering." He said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour
displayed stronger leadership.
"You don't really want to look at it as a contest, but
if there were a contest between Blanco and Barbour,
Barbour would have won in a walk," he said.
Sabato said public perception of Blanco's guidance
after the hurricane will certainly have a political
effect. He said there is time for Blanco to recover,
but the first impressions are negative.
There have been plenty of complaints that rescue
efforts and delivery of relief moved at a sluggish
pace and that scores of school buses were turned away
before reaching victims, and those complaints will
hurt Blanco, experts say.
"There's a short-term shock that's never good for a
chief executive," Stonecipher said.
He said the first three to five days after a disaster
such as Hurricane Katrina isn't necessarily the most
critical time period for a politician's image. What
matters more is how the Blanco deals with the
long-term consequences of the hurricane.
"The next wave is where the governor's going to have a
real problem," he said.
He also said comparisons to the performance of chief
executives like Giuliani aren't necessarily fair. He
noted that neither New Orleans nor the rest of
Louisiana have the resources that were available to
New York after 9/11.
Stonecipher also wondered whether the fact that Blanco
is a Democrat might have slowed the Republican
administration's response to the crisis in her state.
"I wonder what Rudy Giuliani could have done in
Louisiana? Stonecipher said.
The magnitude of a disaster and the relief effort
required only intensifies the pressure on officials
"Especially this kind of disaster," Sabato said. "It's
arguably the worst natural disaster in the country's
history and certainly in Louisiana's."
Cross acknowledged that people will gauge Blanco's
performance, but he believes most attention will focus
on the federal government.
"I do think there's going to be some backlash, but
frankly a disaster of this magnitude is going to
overwhelm the state," Cross said. "I think people are
going to look more at the national government."
Experts agreed on this much: Finger-pointing among
local, state and federal officials is
counterproductive while big needs and problems remain.
"There's going to be a lot of blame to go around,"