09/13/2005: USA Today provides some insight into Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and their handling of the Katrina strike. The responses of the two governors tend to reflect their backgrounds.
Barbour–a former lobbyist and Republican National Committee Chairman–has been very businesslike, and has shown a fundamental understanding of how things work. While he has not had the personal touch of Blanco, he has rolled up his sleeves (literally) and has helped actively to bring relief to the hurricane victims in his state. As a top-level Republican, he has had a good working relationship with the Bush Administration.
Blanco, on the other hand, has been more personal and relational, spending time grieving with families. Criticisms of her on-camera tears have been unfair. (Faced with the New Orleans devastation, who wouldn’t have lost it on camera?) While she now has a better working relationship with Bush, her initial response conveyed an “I trust you as far as I can throw you” attitude toward Bush. Like Mayor Nagin, she was initially on the “Blame everyone but the people in your home state” bandwagon. (Nagin has toned it down somewhat, but he’s still on that bandwagon.)
Unfortunately, Blanco has failed to demonstrate leadership. She has done a great job grieving with families, but leaders also need to inspire people, promote confidence, and convey resolve. Toward that end, she has fallen short. In addition, she has shown a lack of understanding of government systems and processes, both in her state as well as the federal level.
Like Blanco, Barbour rejected a federal takeover of relief efforts in his state. However, unlike Blanco, Barbour really did have the situation under control. While Barbour is hardly as sharp as Mayor Giuliani, he has acquitted himself well. Other than Lt. Gen. Honore, Barbour is the only leader whose star will rise out of this.
Blanco, on the other hand, is completely in over her head.
As we learn more about how the leaders–city, state, and federal–responded to Katrina, we will find out the extent to which the friction between Bush and Louisiana Democrats contributed to the federal response, and who contributed to that friction. Bush didn’t wait for Barbour to call him; he called Barbour.
Was this level of proactivity shown to Blanco? If not, were the reasons technical or personal? A disaster like this is not the time for political grandstanding.
If I’m a Republican governor and need serious federal help from a Democrat President, now is not the time to give him the Dick Cheney salute.
Similarly, if I am a Republican President, now is not the time to get into a defacating contest with a Democratic governor. If I have a hostile governor cussing me out, it’s still my job to look beyond that and keep my eye on the real issue: people are in desperate need of help.
Again, we will see the extent to which partisan politics–and the people who escalated it–hindered the relief efforts in Louisiana.