Governor Blanco did her best Braveheart impression as she opened the Special Session with a speech in New Orleans to those state legislators who chose to attend. Her message tapped into the feelings of many residents of Southern Louisiana who are struggling to rebuild after Katrina and Rita battered the entire coast: We must fight.
And her rhetoric reflected that confrontational theme. In her short address, she used a form of “fight” seven times, promised to hold “their feet to the fire in Washington,” and made threats:
If no effort is made to guarantee our fair share of royalties, I have warned the federal government that we will be forced to block the August sale of off-shore oil and gas leases.I like a good fight.
But, to fight, you must have an adversary:
You may have noticed last week that President Bush, in his State of the Union speech setting the nation's priorities for the year, said so little about a tragedy so great. I noticed. I was there. And that signal worries me.Adversary #1 – the White House.
Adversary #2 – the Capitol:
The harsh reality is that for many people in Washington, Katrina is yesterday's problem and Rita never happened. We are asking Congress to understand that Rita did to Southwest Louisiana what Katrina did to Mississippi.Adversary #3 – Katrina fatigue:
Public opinion polls are telling lawmakers that the nation has moved on and what happened to the Gulf Coast is yesterday's news. I know you will agree with me that the long-term stability of our region is far more important than the instability of public opinion polls.Adversary #4 – Corrupt Louisiana politicians:
We had all better put Louisiana politics aside and worry about Washington politics or our people and our state will lose. Anyone who wants to sacrifice the good of our people to politics and cronyism needs to rethink their actions. Louisiana can no longer tolerate the perception that you must pay to play if you expect to do business in this state.Adversary #5 – Other states:
Our state suffered well over 75% of the housing damage from Katrina and Rita, as compared to neighboring states. We had ten times more businesses destroyed. We had five times more jobs lost. And we weathered more than 75% of the total property and infrastructure damage caused by the storm. However, we received only 54% of the block grant funding.Note, however, that her call to arms is one to defend the coast, not to strike at our enemies, for the first shot has already been fired:
First, let us secure our communities by strengthening our levees. The levees are federal levees.As was the second shot:
It is inexcusable that our people - hardworking and patriotic American taxpayers - were asked to entrust their lives and property to a worn and broken system.
Congressman Richard Baker created a solid proposal that would make up the difference. It enjoys the bipartisan support of our entire Congressional delegation. As you know, the White House tried to blow this solution out of the saddle. This is second-class treatment. Our people who lost everything are not second-class citizens. They deserve an equitable solution. We will continue to fight for a fair hearing.She asked us to close ranks – consolidate the levee boards and New Orleans’s government – to make ourselves leaner and stronger.
She opened the special session in New Orleans. Some didn’t like that. I think it was perfect. While this special session is dedicated to fighting for those Louisianians trying to rebuild, in New Orleans the legislators had to confront the ghosts of all those residents who are no longer here to fight – those residents who died when the levees broke and the rescue was mishandled and those who have not yet returned because, although the government had an plan to evacuate them, it has no plan to repatriate them.
Overall, last night’s speech was Blanco’s best performance in the spotlight. She’s still an average public speaker (Okay, okay, she’s no Braveheart. Not enough face paint.). And, the address was nothing more than an average speech. But there was a lot for Louisiana to rally around.
I do disagree with one thing Blanco said, though. She said, “It’s time to play hardball.”
No. Hardball is a game. This is war.