Monday, September 12, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and the storm of Louisiana politics

By now, it is obvious to liberals that if New Orleans goes, Louisiana's liberal base goes. North and central Louisiana have always been conservative and have voted primarily Republican for a long time. The parish I live in, which is just across the lake from New Orleans, is a haven for both middle-class Republicans and deeply conservative rural families.

If New Orleans is left to die--or not reconstructed somewhat as its old self--Louisiana will automatically become all Republican. In that case, the state's senior Senator, Mary Landrieu, will be removed from office by almost anyone the Republican Party runs against her. Landrieu is a centrist Democrat who has infuriated many of us by her votes for war, big oil, and the Bush tax cuts. It helps, of course, to remember that no one can hold office in an oil state and vote against big oil. Landrieu also has a bad animal rights voting record, though that is improving a bit.

On the other hand, Landrieu has voted almost straight pro-choice (she voted for the "partial birth abortion" ban), and is an advocate of gay rights, women's rights, and rights for people of color. Her pro-choice votes come at great risk because she a Catholic and much of her voting base is Catholic. When she first ran for the Senate, the former Archbishop of New Orleans announced that Catholics who voted for her would be committing a sin.

Landrieu is also an articulate spokeswoman, whose filibuster skills have brought her to national attention. In other words, she isn't my Senator, but she's a hell of a lot better than anyone who might replace her. One need only to look at Louisiana's other Senator, David Vitter, to see how bad things can get.

It is also hepful to understand--in light of the current finger-pointing--that the bad blood between New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco is nothing new. Blanco is also a Catholic centrist Democrat (she shocked many Louisianians recently by hinting that she was troubled by the state's anti-gay rights turn, and she also issued an executive order which banned discrimination against gays in state hiring). Nagin, a Democrat, supported Blanco's opponent, Bobby Jindal, in the gubernatorial race. Jindal is an extreme right-wing, virulently anti-gay, anti church/state separation Republican darling. People looking in from the outside may tend to see Nagin as a Democrat's Democrat, but that is hardly the case.

At this point, it is hard to tell who did what, other than the obvious--that the federal government totally abandoned Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama during the crucial first days of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Right now, the scapegoat is Governor Blanco. How well Blanco did in this emergency is something we will not know for a while (it is interesting to note here that at least one member of her own staff has already leveled sexist--and totally uncalled for--criticsm at her). But whether she deserves blame may be irrelevant: She will get it anyway, because it is also important to the Republican Party that Louisiana not elect any more Democratic governors. By blaming her, Nagin is playing right into their hands.

Oh, and did I mention? Up until a few days before he filed to run for Mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin was a Republican.


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