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Mary Landrieu
An Unlikely Ally

The U.S. Senate Is Being Pressed To Pass Katrina Legislation Before The Christmas Recess.  Failure Would Tell The World America Cannot Take Care Of Its Own.

By Perry Hicks- Special to GCN     Filed 12/13/05

On December 3rd, the Los Angeles Times ran an article claiming Louisiana’s failure to secure disaster relief was due to its corrupt “image problem” and the demands made by its Democrat politicians.  The article went on to laud Mississippi Republican senators Thad Cochran and Trent Lott for working “quietly behind the scenes to steer resources to their constituents.”

It hasn’t been quite like that.  Federal resources have not been going to Mississippi without great difficulty, which has prompted Senator Lott to publicly call out the president on his promise that “if recovery doesn’t go exactly right then we will make it go exactly right.”

In reminding the president of his promise, there is considerable irony that Republican Trent Lott and Democrat Mary Landrieu, on the single issue of rebuilding their Katrina devastated communities, have become the most unlikely of allies.

Katrina relief legislation has been held up in Washington by a high level of rancor not seen since the 1800s.  While most of the animus is between parties, some of it is between individual party members themselves.  The resulting standoff has literally threatened to drown the storm affected region in a sea of red ink.

To put it more succinctly, a doomsday clock is running and the Federal Government has yet to make an effective response.  A failure to provide the systems and funds necessary to forestall a tidal wave of mortgage defaults, collapse of local governments, and depopulation unparalleled in American history, will send a signal to the entire world that America cannot or will not take care of its own.  The ramifications of such a message would have devastating international consequences.

The undercurrent to Trent Lott’s point is this: If a president’s word is no good to his own people, then what good would it be to anyone else?

Dust Devils Dancing in the Streets

While New Orleans was not beaten into sticks like coastal Mississippi, the toll on lives and property has been much worse. In an exclusive telephone interview with GCN, Senator Landrieu said quite poignantly, “I don’t know a single person who hasn’t lost something.”

What Landrieu has lost is an entire city.  While structures may remain, the rising floodwaters covered approximately 75% of New Orleans rendering the city uninhabitable.  Approximately 480 thousand inhabitants were forced to evacuate.

Currently, it is not clear how many evacuees will return.  And should they not, what Senator Landrieu could ultimately lose is her next election.

Although some have been allowed to reenter the city, much of New Orleans is still described as a ghost town.

Just driving along the interstate toward the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is an awe inspiring experience. As GCN publisher, Keith Burton, described his recent trip to the airport, “I saw no movement anywhere. No dogs or cats.  The roads and parking lots are empty except for abandoned cars.  It is a scene out of some kind of science fiction movie depicting a future devoid of human beings, replete with dust devils dancing in the streets.”

Her Father’s Daughter

Senator Landrieu is the daughter of former New Orleans mayor, Maurice Edwin “Moon” Landrieu and sister to Louisiana’s current Lt. Governor, Mitch Landrieu.  In comparing father and daughter careers, there are more than just a few interesting parallels.

Moon was 30 years old when he won his election to the Louisiana House of Representatives, 36 when he became a New Orleans city councilman, and 40 when he was elected mayor.  Throughout his career, Moon was an advocate for civil rights and was one of the few white representatives to vote against segregation during the civil rights era.

As New Orleans mayor, Moon was active in planning and construction of the Superdome.  Completed in 1975, the Superdome structure was designed, and proven to withstand, hurricane force winds.

While president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Moon is also said to have supported a Federal bailout of what was then a near bankrupt New York City- an unpopular idea at the time.

Mary was but 23years old when she won her seat in Louisiana’s House of Representatives and State Treasurer when she was only 33.  She came to the U.S. Senate at just 41.

The only race that she has lost was in the primary for governor in 1996.  Her last election to the Senate had been particularly close with pundits crediting New Orleans for pushing her over the top.

Landrieu ran for Treasurer on a platform of reform and fiscal responsibility. As treasurer, she opened up the state contract system and openly criticized then governor Edwin Edwards.

Despite her electoral successes and her status as Louisiana’s senior senator, Mary Landrieu has not always gotten the credit she deserves.

For example, the aforementioned Los Angeles Times article quoted anonymous Republican sources as criticizing Landrieu’s outspokenness about the Federal response. Landrieu’s tone is said to be “shrill” and so hurting the efforts of her own state to win Federal aid.

Of course, her defenders could rightly argue that a male senator would never be said to be shrill.  Adjectives to describe male anger would be more along the lines of “demonstrative” and “forceful” just as the appearance of members in this old boy’s club are generally said to be “distinguished.”

To this latter point, talk radio show king, Rush Limbaugh, denigrates Landrieu by calling her “Baby Fat,” ostensibly because of- and this may sound just as unseemly to say about a United States Senator- her youthful good looks.

Then there is the oft reported quote by Moon comparing daughter Mary and son Mitch:

“Mary is a great campaigner, but Mitchell is the natural politician in the family. Watch him.”

However, Senator Landrieu’s reputation on Capitol Hill is not light-weight as Limbaugh would have us believe.  She is most often described as combative, willing to fight tooth and nail until she gets what she wants. 

Fear and Loathing in Big Easy

Landrieu’s now famous televised threat to punch the president aside, official corruption in Louisiana is a problem. Just before Katrina, Louisiana Democrat Congressman William J. Jefferson had both his homes in Washington and New Orleans raided by the FBI with large amounts of cash reportedly being taken from one of his freezers.

Also, the FBI had established a presence within the Algiers public school headquarters after 11 individuals has been indicted for various alleged offenses against the Orleans Parish school system in December 2004.

On an even more serious front, the brother-in-law to Congressman Jefferson, Judge Allen Green, had been convicted on corruption charges in 2005. Another judge, Ronald Bodenheimer, pled guilty to corruption and drug charges (through fabricating evidence) in 2003.

Just prior to Katrina, 3 senior Louisiana emergency planning officials indicted over $60 million of missing Federal (FEMA) money with 2 more listed as unindicted co-conspirators.

Still, outgoing FBI Special Agent in Charge, Louis M. Reigel III, is reported to have stated back in March 2005, “I think we are at the point where public corruption is starting to subside.”

In 2000, when then Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards was convicted of bribery and conspiracy, Louisiana was ranked number 1 in FBI corruption cases.  In 2004, that ranking had fallen back to number 3.

Democrats, including Landrieu, counter charge that other states have corruption problems, too.  To make her case, she points an accusatory finger at Tennessee Republican Senator Bill Frist, and Texas Republican Congressman Tom Delay.

Frist is under investigation for insider trading by allegedly ordering his blind trust to sell an unknown number of shares of a company his family had founded, just 30 days before the stock price plunged.  Tom Delay has been indicted for money laundering in a scheme to violate Texas campaign finance laws.

In addition, President George Bush’s senior advisor and deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, and Vice President Dick Cheny’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, have been under Federal investigation for allegedly leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent, Valerie Plame.

While the investigation could not conclude that Plame was indeed covert, Libby was indicted for 1 count of obstruction of justice, 2 counts of perjury, and 2 counts of making false statements to the FBI.  Rove remains under investigation.

What may well be in play here is not just what Landrieu calls Louisiana’s “checkered past,” but also a reaction to Democrats criminalizing Republicans.

Community Disaster Loan Act of 2005

While Landrieu has been outspoken, she has also been proactive.  Recognizing the need to keep cash strapped local governments funded without ultimately burying them under a mountain of debt, Senator Landrieu introduced 3 bills designed to provide Federal disaster loan debt forgiveness otherwise called “loan cancellation.”

Landrieu first sponsored senate bill S1855, which was silent on the matter of loan cancellation thus keeping the door open to it.  When objections arose she introduced a modification to the original, S1856, which specified cancellation only with approval of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB.)  When this still did not satisfy critics, she introduced a third bill, S1857, specifying that the disaster loans could only be canceled by approval of congress.

What passed as the Community Disaster Loan Act of 2005 was bill S1858, sponsored by Louisiana’s Republican senator, David Vitter, and cosponsored by Senate Majority Leader, Bill Frist.  S1858 became public law 109-88 tacitly stating “such loans may not be canceled.”

Senator Landrieu explained what happened this way:

“Senator Frist blamed it on the necessity to gain support from the House.  However, when the House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Jerry Lewis, (R California,) did agree to one of the compromises Thursday night, Sen. Frist continued to object the next morning.”

Through a procedural technicality, Landrieu held the floor until 2 a.m. when she finally agreed to a 6 hour break so that staff could rest.

When it was all over, the S1858 passed unanimously with Landrieu only voting “yes” in order to see some kind of loan relief be available to the hard-strapped communities.

Sen. Landrieu did not mince words about her disappointment with how the final bill had been steam-rolled through the Senate saying, “You compromise in an effort to do the best you can while preserving some important principles.  But there were no compromises here.  This was an agreement between the right wing and the far right wing; the people who hold the power but are not willing to use it on behalf of people that really need help.”

Relief on the Way?

When contacted by GCN, Senator Frist’s office side-stepped Landrieu’s charges, instead shifting the subject to Senator Cochran’s Supplemental Relief Bill.  While the bill was still being crafted at the time of this writing, Frist spokesman, Bob Stevenson, thought that loan forgiveness was indeed part of the total supplemental package.

Senator Landrieu has threatened to hold the Senate through Christmas if legislation is not enacted.

About the Author.....

Perry Hicks is a former Mississippi Coast resident and was a correspondent for the old Gulfport Star Journal. He has appeared on Fox News Channel. Perry has also hosted his own radio talk show on the auto industry with a mix of politics. Perry is a former college professor and a frequent contributor to GCN writing on stories of national importance with local interests. His articles can be found in the GCN Archive.

Contact the Author: arielsquarefour@hotmail.com

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