BLANCO DEALT A BAD HAND

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Published: Aug. 23, 2021

By: Robert Mann

As the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, the following is an excerpt from Robert Mann’s new memoir: “Backrooms and Bayous: My Life in Louisiana Politics,” looking at how the late governor handled the crisis.

Governor Kathleen Blanco’s administration had two periods. There was pre-Katrina, during which she devoted herself, among other things, to creating jobs and reforming education and juvenile justice. Post-Katrina, there was nothing but recovering from Katrina and Rita. After the searchand-recovery phase, the work of restoring south Louisiana began.

To secure the billions in recovery aid Louisiana needed from the federal government meant Blanco would be forced to testify before congressional committees investigating the errors and missteps by officials at every level of government. She also would have to make a dozen or so trips to Washington to lobby congressional leaders and Bush administration officials for the money, especially after the initial appropriations bill awarded much more per capita to Mississippi than Louisiana.

For Blanco, the job was grueling and often humbling. On virtually every trip, she went to the White House to plead for funding from officials who attacked her or who doubted that Louisiana government was honest or efficient enough to spend properly the rebuilding dollars we requested. In these visits, she showed her steel, once threatening to blast President George W. Bush in a press conference on the White House driveway if his aides did not give Louisiana what it needed. They quickly relented when they realized she wasn’t bluffing. Then, she would trudge over to Capitol Hill for meetings with Democratic and Republican leaders.

The stress on Blanco was clear. The suffering she witnessed weighed on her constantly. She had to know that Katrina would be her legacy, for good or bad. And bad it was, at least in the early months. During this time, I think she looked for and treasured moments when she could forget about Katrina and Rita for a few hours.

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