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Blanco's confused, mendacious testimony serves Louisiana poorly

In the grand scheme of things, Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s confusion and mendacity in her testimony to the U.S. House’s committee investigating the Hurricane Katrina disaster will serve the state poorly in its quest for federal help to rebuild.

In some parts of her testimony, Blanco seemed confused. Before she made a statement about how she “would not be here today if the levees had not failed,” she said, “What happened to us this year can only be described as a catastrophe of Biblical proportions.” But those kinds of calamities to which she refers were visited upon certain persons and peoples by God because of their wickedness. Is she implying Louisiana was wicked, and how can she square that comment with hers that the catastrophe was man-made because of levee failure? (Obviously, her speechwriters need to do their homework and think more clearly through their arguments.)

Also, she mistakenly called “bold” the recent initiatives that she cultivated through the legislative special session. Finally getting a uniform hurricane-resistant building code isn’t “bold,” it’s common sense that should have prevailed long ago. Taking over failing Orleans schools is necessary, but stands independently of the disaster. Budget cuts at the margins rather than restructuring is timid. And the truly bold changes that needed to be made, such as meaningful levee governance reform, she refused to support.

She also showed just how ignorant she was concerning the entire flood control issue before the hurricane by responding to a question about whether levees were adequately maintained with “Before Katrina I would have said yes. Now, I would say no.” Blanco appointed members to levee boards; how could she not demand accountability from those people and fool her into thinking things were adequate? Maybe because, despite pious words from her about how patronage needs to be removed from levee governance, only days ago she acted as the hatchet woman for Kenner mayor Aaron Broussard over a political dispute regarding Broussard’s handling of the disaster. All of this suggests that Blanco’s “commitment” to real levee governance reform is as a result of declining poll numbers, not from genuine desire.

(And, in one question not yet picked up in the media reports, after she said Congress needed to provide more funds to coordinate emergency response communications, she had no good answer when asked about the over $100 million sent to the state in recent years to be spent for this purpose, why only a fraction has been spent on the matter.)

Blanco also managed to slip in a few outright falsehoods into her testimony:

Blanco lie: “I have sent over 100,000 documents supporting the state’s actions. I chose not to take executive privilege.”

Truth: At least in spirit, since there is no real equivalent in Louisiana to the federal government concept of “executive privilege” (the idea that separation of powers would be violated by the legislature’s ability too intrusively to request information from the president). Blanco redacted some information and refused to turn over other relevant information such as her own e-mail communications.

Blanco lie: “We had to evacuate several low-lying areas prior to Orleans. That evacuation began early Saturday. It took a lot of courage to follow that plan. [New Orleans] Mayor [Ray] Nagin followed the plan.”

Truth: Nagin most certainly did not, if anybody in New Orleans or Baton Rouge, Blanco included, even knew what the plan was given its vagueness.

Blanco lie (in response to a question “[w]hen [the] federal government offered to help, you didn't want them to”): “I never rejected federal assistance.”

Truth: Blanco rejected immediate federal troop deployment when offered because she did not want to lose control over Louisiana National Guard resources. She dallied for about a day before deciding she did not want unified command, turning down the federal government conditions (the offer itself being delayed because she was imprecise in her request and because she may have thought she had made it but no primary record of it having been made exists.)

(Blanco does give a plausible reason for resisting the idea of unified troop command under the federal government, that the Guard no longer could have performed law enforcement duties. But the reason that became necessary is that she and Nagin acted way too conciliatory towards looting in the first couple of days after the levees broke in Orleans. A tough response immediately might have negated the later need for troops for law enforcement.)

Despite what some may think, Members of Congress (particularly of the majority Republicans as demonstrated by the continued nutty comments coming from the only non-Louisiana Democrat permitted by Democrat leaders to serve on the committee, Rep. Cynthia McKinney) are not idiots and they know the facts. Unfortunately, the most looming truth of all is Blanco, given her past and present record amplified by the content of her remarks, is a bad bet to utilize well the resources to rebuild the state, and that makes Congress wary. So all her testimony really did was to more fully expose her shortcomings as a leader even as she tried to use the opportunity to revive her quickly-ebbing political power and career.

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