Fate has not been kind to Gov. Kathleen Blanco since Aug. 29, 2005. When Hurricane Katrina decimated southeast Louisiana, it seemed to wash away her political fortunes as well -- with an occasional assist from The Governess herself.
In the days (and daze) immediately after the storm, Blanco appeared shell-shocked by the incomprehensible destruction wrought by Katrina. In human terms, that's understandable. Many of us found ourselves staring in disbelief at the television set.
But she was not just one of us. She was our governor, the person to whom we turned for strength and hope and bedrock confidence in the face of it all. Instead, she told us to pray, which of course is always a good idea, but we were already doing that. We wanted more. She gave us tears and dishevelment instead.
In the months that followed, as Mississippi held back-to-back legislative sessions to deal with Katrina's aftermath, Blanco struggled to call just one session, and its focus was, well, not very focused. She called another in February 2006 and belatedly got behind the move to reform levee boards, but she really couldn't take credit for that.
Her Louisiana Recovery Authority started off with high hopes and lots of potential, but the LRA's effectiveness has foundered on the shoals of her Road Home program -- a program that she chose to put her name on, no doubt with the expectation that it would pull her out of her political slump. Instead, the glacial pace of the program's payments to homeowners has sent her already flagging "re-elect" numbers into a steeper nosedive.
Then came the good news: insurance payments that swelled local banks also fattened the state's coffers as people started replacing major goods lost in the storm. Louisiana finished fiscal year 2006 with a surplus of more than $800 million, and less than six months into the current fiscal year, revenue forecasters were already projecting another $1 billion-plus surplus for this year. Blanco couldn't wait to play Santa Claus, summoning lawmakers into a December special session with promises of cash for everyone at Christmas time.
Too bad she forgot to consult with legislative leaders and others to build a consensus around some sort of rational plan. Her rebate proposals, which did nothing to address the real crisis in the insurance industry, were soundly rejected and the session fizzled.
Among those who helped torpedo her December session was the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI), the state's leading business lobby and a powerful force in the legislative halls. Blanco, a Democrat, has had mixed relations with the conservative business group, but most of the time they were at least cordial.
Not lately, however.
One would think that she would have entered the LABI annual luncheon like Daniel going into the lion's den -- filled with faith, but walking humbly.
Instead, when called upon for "brief remarks" at the end of the luncheon (which featured national political analyst Larry Sabato, who as a speaker is everything Blanco isn't), Blanco got up and went on and on and on pretending to read a Biblical tome by "Dan" to the "Labitians." In the epistle, "Dan" sings the governor's praises for doing all sorts of wonderful things for business interests during her tenure.
To be sure, Blanco and LABI have teamed up to pass some business-friendly legislation from time to time. Blanco could have used her time at the podium to make that point, but instead she tried to poke fun at LABI president Dan Juneau. As jokes go, this one fell flat. Really flat.
Blanco's remarks were not only a sorry attempt at humor by someone whose delivery is at best uninspiring, but also an example of the worst timing imaginable. Trying to embarrass an adversary in front of his own constituents is classless, even by Louisiana political standards. Worse for Blanco, Juneau is unassailable amongst his tribe, and her effort to take him down a few notches on LABI's biggest day of the year will only make the group's conservative members all the more anxious to take her out in October.
If that happens, she will have no one to blame but herself.
- A.J. Sisco
- Blanco's remarks were not only a sorry attempt at humor by someone whose delivery is at best uninspiring, but also an example of the worst timing imaginable.