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Shreveport paper: Disaster carries major stakes for governor's political future

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050905/NEWS01/509050354/1002/NEWS Disaster carries major stakes for governor s political future
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2005
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      http://www.shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050905/NEWS01/509050354/1002/NEWS

      Disaster carries major stakes for governor's political
      future

      September 5, 2005
      By BARRY JOHNSON
      bljohnson@...

      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
      frustrated."

      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
      like Blanco.

      "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,"
      Cross said.
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