"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

Bush Called Republican Governor, not Democrat Governor
USA Today
Governors handle crisis in own ways
By Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY
Sept 12, 2005

n the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco has prayed for the dead, comforted the living and defended her leadership after an abrupt emergence onto the national stage. Some commentators and officials have blamed Blanco for problems such as flawed communication and blocked aid in the aftermath of Katrina.

How does she cope? Her answer spills out rapid fire: "I have to tune out the political talking heads. The blame game can get in the way of protective efforts. It can sap your vitality. It's the vulture mentality. Woulda coulda shoulda, sitting in their clean spaces, not knowing what's going on in the trenches. They know not of what they speak."

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, once chairman of the national Republican Party, finds himself responsible for helping get 1 million people back on their feet amid unprecedented devastation.

How does he cope? His answer reflects his Yazoo City roots: "You just hitch up your britches and do what you gotta do."

Both governors have faced cameras in tears, made threats to lawbreakers, rejected federal takeovers of relief efforts, fended off questions about whether the federal government came through for them in their time of need. Both are looking at legacies far different than what they had intended.

But there the similarities end.

Blanco, 62, a Democrat from Port Iberia, raised six children and honed her political skills going door to door in Cajun country. Ever since New Orleans was overtaken by floodwaters, the soft-spoken governor has faced stinging criticism.

"She found herself in a desperate situation," says Susan Howell, director of the Survey Research Center at the University of New Orleans. "She's going to rise or fall on the timeline of her decisions."

Barbour, 57, took a 20-year detour to Washington, where he developed close ties to President Bush and other important Republicans as a White House political director, national party chairman and high-powered lobbyist.

He's said and done nothing in the past two weeks that stands to damage a career that could be headed for a White House bid. "He's managing to at least look authoritative," says Marty Wiseman, executive director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University. "So far, he gets a passing grade from most people."

New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani set the standard for disaster management after 9/11, projecting a compelling mix of command and vulnerability. Some analysts liken Barbour to Giuliani.

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, calls Barbour "the only political figure to gain" from the Katrina fiasco. "A Giuliani-Barbour ticket in 2008? Or is it Barbour-Giuliani?" he wondered.

A 'nurturing' style

Blanco's reviews are worse, but so is her situation - a catastrophic hurricane and a catastrophic flood that left a major city in ruins.

Blanco declared a state of emergency Aug. 26 three days before the storm and followed the steps in her disaster playbook. On Aug. 31, she asked Bush for "everything you've got." But some commentators and officials have blamed her for problems such as flawed communication and blocked aid.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., accused Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin of "mind-boggling incompetence." Nagin, who has been criticized for failing to get people without money or cars out of the city before the storm, praised Bush and scored Blanco Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press.

Was it the state's responsibility to help Nagin evacuate? "He had a plan, and his plan should have evacuated the city," Blanco said tersely in an interview with USA TODAY.

Was the state handicapped because many of its National Guard troops were in Iraq? "We might have had more feet on the ground quicker," she says. "But we had it all lined up with our neighboring states to come in."

Blanco came to her job without Giuliani's law enforcement background or Barbour's deep knowledge of national politics and government. A stay-at-home mom for 14 years, she was the first woman on the state's Public Service Commission and, in 2003, the first woman elected governor of Louisiana.

John Maginnis, a political newsletter publisher who has observed Louisiana politics for 30 years, says Blanco is not an inspiring speaker and appeared "rattled" on TV after seeing her devastated state. But he also says it was clear that "her heart went out" to Katrina's victims.

"She's an empathetic, nurturing kind of person," he says. "Maybe she is not the towering tower of strength that some people would hope or expect to see."

Lafayette Parish Sheriff Michael Neustrom, a lifelong friend, says Blanco's political style developed in the early 1980s when she ran for the state Legislature. She didn't have the money for TV ads, so she knocked on doors and talked directly to voters. "That was the beginning of her success," he says. "People felt connected. They felt she cared about them."

Part of Blanco's job these days is person-to-person. She spent hours with evacuees at shelters in Houston and Dallas on Sunday night. One woman had just located her mother, her father and her two children after a two-week separation. "We believe we have a flight," Blanco said. "We'll be able to connect that whole family."

The other part of her job is of a different order of magnitude. As she put it last week, "It's as though one region of the state has been erased, and we have to start from the beginning and recreate it."

Blanco has had several skirmishes with Bush and sent signals that she did not trust his administration. She brought in James Lee Witt, former president Bill Clinton's emergency management director, to advise her. She rejected Bush's proposal that the federal government take control of National Guard troops under her command. ("If that would have improved our situation, it would have been a no-brainer," she says).

She says that two days after Katrina, desperate for help, she couldn't get through to Bush and didn't get a callback; hours later, she tried again, and they talked.

Some frustrated officials, including the mayor, have burst into tears and obscenities during the ordeal. But Blanco kept her public reaction measured and now depicts herself and Bush as a team. Her husband met Bush's plane Sunday night in New Orleans, and she rode with him Monday as he toured the city.

"He and I both agree that FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) did not respond as quickly as we needed," she says. "He's going to look at it. He has to."

In her first 18 months as governor, Blanco tried to tighten state ethics rules and pass a $2,000-a-year teacher pay increase financed by a tobacco-tax hike. Both proposals died in the Legislature.

It's a safe bet recovery and rebuilding will dominate the rest of her term. "What are we going to do to make life whole, to heal our state?" she has asked. If she runs for re-election in 2007, she'll be judged by her answers.

No wait for Bush's calls

Barbour hasn't had to wait hours to talk to Bush. In fact, Barbour said in an interview with USA TODAY, the president called him three to four times in the wake of Katrina. "I never called him. He always called me," he said.

Ed Rogers, Barbour's longtime friend and business partner, says Barbour "has a very sophisticated working knowledge of this administration and this city (Washington).

He knows what people can do and what they can't do. He knows who to call, and they know him."

Katrina grabbed Barbour's full attention. The hurricane dealt the Mississippi Gulf Coast "utter devastation," Barbour says: 1 million people significantly affected, tens of thousands "who've lost everything."

But compared with the complete wipeout next door in Louisiana, the destruction was familiar hurricane damage writ large, and recovery efforts were moving ahead relatively rapidly.

By Friday, as authorities in New Orleans continued to hunt for corpses in toxic waters, Barbour had named a recovery czar - former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale. A damaged vacuum cleaner plant reopened in Biloxi and displaced people started moving into mobile homes. By Saturday, electricity was available to all customers who could accept it.

"The most critical thing is what the private sector does," Barbour says. "Our people need jobs."

The onetime party leader declined to comment on Republican plans to push for tax cuts despite mounting federal deficits driven by Katrina and the Iraq war.

"I just haven't got anything to do with it," he says of the national agenda. "I got a full-time job down here."

Upbeat and good-natured, Barbour also has refused to express much frustration with a federal relief operation even Bush acknowledged was flawed. He repeatedly says the federal government has been "a good partner."

Bush offered Mississippi as well as Louisiana a federal takeover of relief efforts. "I told him we didn't need it," Barbour says, "that we were doing well."

Not everyone appreciates Barbour's positive spin. Steve Bozell of Milton, Fla., said in a letter to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson that he had made three trips to Biloxi to deliver supplies. "While Barbour was praising FEMA and praising the president's response, reporters and private citizens like me were driving the streets" on a fruitless search for federal relief officials, he wrote.

Wiseman says Barbour is expecting that good behavior "will pay off in a bigger way down the road" when his strapped state needs federal money to rebuild.

Barbour often takes the long view, whether it's avoiding complaints or investing in high technology for his campaign in 2002.

Wiseman used to bring groups of students to visit Barbour year after year in Washington.

"He took time he really didn't have every time we were up there. He welcomed them with open arms," Wiseman says. "Knowing Haley, he was probably thinking, eight to 10 years from now, I may run for governor, and I will need these folks."

By his actions Bush proves he's not president of the United States. He's president of the republican party. Bush will never be man enough to be our president.

Will the media hammer Bush? Not a chance.