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Stuck on stupid XIX: Blanco denies delaying housing money

A year ago, Hurricane Katrina was churning towards the Gulf Coast and Louisiana officials kept an eye on it. Despite that, crucial figures such as New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco bungled, through poor planning followed by erroneous execution, attempts to cope with and minimize the loss of property and lives that would result from the storm’s landfall.

How they have coped with that spawned a new phrase, courtesy of a no-nonsense military man, for the Louisiana political lexicon, “stuck on stupid.” It’s the attitude demonstrated when public policy problems created by these officials’ own actions instead are blamed by those officials on others; they are incapable of understanding that it is their own beliefs and doings causing problems, and so they have to try to blame others for their own faults. Unfortunately, Louisiana has demonstrated in the past year that it has far too many politicians emblematic of this phrase (hence my nineteenth such named column), and it frequently has been lead from the top by Blanco.

Her latest exposition of why she remains stuck on stupid comes from her remarks at the grand opening of a state branch office of the Road Home program, designed to assist Louisianans in rebuilding their residences. Or, as wags have put in deference to the fact that a large number of state citizens have picked up on Blanco’s poor term in office, the “Road to the Governor’s Mansion,” as Democrat Blanco tries to use the program’s giving away of lots of money to entice people to support her for reelection next year.

It was all vintage stuck-on-stupid Blanco at the New Orleans ceremony. Trying to forestall criticism that it took nearly a year to get all of this going, she said the center's opening “culminates extraordinary days, extraordinary battles” in which the state had to spend months demanding greater help from federal officials who “at first didn't want to help us.” She spouted more such nonsense when she said part of the delay occurred because the White House decided to oppose Rep. Richard Baker’s bill in Congress to create a public corporation that would have bought hurricane-damaged homes and resold them to developers.

In truth, the delay mostly was Blanco’s doing. First, she took forever to get things going, in terms of providing leadership for institutions and laws to deal with recovery. (By contrast, Mississippi, which in some places had everything flattened as far as 60 miles inland, immediately got going and is far ahead of Louisiana as a result in all but the most severely damaged places.) Then, she refused to support important measures such as flood control legislation proposed to better protect the state and to show the rest of the country the state meant business, that recovery monies wouldn’t be poured into the same untenable situation, until a barrage of criticism made her change her mind.

Instead, she wasted time and efforts first by backing a ludicrously-large, few-strings attached $250 billion gift request to the federal government, then by backing the Baker bill which would have created a huge wasteful bureaucracy and likely would have put the U.S. taxpayer much more on the hook with fewer protections of their monies. National lawmakers derided the first and wisely deferred on the second. She wasted valuable time and effort conducting a public relations campaign, even in the halls of Congress, trying to blame others for her shortcomings in dealing with the storm during and after it (even being less than candid about it all).

What we know of as the “Road Home” came about only after all of this, where Blanco had to call another special session of the Legislature just to make up for errors she made regarding the first – and then in the regular session she had to wait for approval of the government structure to carry it out because her suggestion how to run it was too bureaucratic and put too much power in her hands, leading to Legislative modification. Only after all of this then did the federal government feel it could trust Louisiana to use wisely its tens of billions of dollars of gift monies.

A real leader would have lopped six months off this process. And so, almost a year later, with heavy hearts we’re still forced to proclaim (all together now), “Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, you remain thoroughly stuck on stupid.”

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