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Tancredo Slams Louisiana Leaders

Citing what he said was a “history” of public corruption in Louisiana and the “abysmal failure” of current state officials to respond to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) on Wednesday urged Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) to prevent local politicians from controlling any part of the billions of federal disaster relief dollars slated for the state.

“The question is not whether Congress should provide for those in need, but whether state and local officials who have been derelict in their duty should be trusted with that money. Their record during Hurricane Katrina and the long history of public corruption in Louisiana convinces me that they should not,” Tancredo wrote in a letter to Hastert, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and House and Senate appropriators.

Instead, Tancredo suggested giving whatever money that might go to the state and local officials to another entity, such as a private organization or select government committee, to administer. As a practical matter, the vast majority of the more than $60 billion — including nearly $52 billion approved Wednesday — that Congress has appropriated so far for disaster relief along the Gulf Coast has been given to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of Defense and the Army Corps of Engineers. However, future funding for disaster victims may indeed be funneled through the affected state governments.

Tancredo singled out Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, both Democrats, as having bungled the response to massive flooding in New Orleans and surrounding areas following Katrina.

“Clearly, the federal response from FEMA in the aftermath of the hurricane was hampered by bureaucratic ineptitude. Making matters worse, the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana have demonstrated mind-boggling incompetence in their lack of planning for and response to this disaster,” Tancredo wrote.

In Louisiana and Washington, D.C., Tancredo’s letter was met with a mixture of outrage and disbelief.

“It’s hard to imagine more reckless and irresponsible remarks coming from a public official, particularly from one sitting in an air-conditioned office thousands of miles from a scene of devastation and tragedy,” said Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher, who also bemoaned the fact that she had to take her attention away from relief efforts in her state even to comment on the letter.

“It’s a sad day when a United States Congressman is too busy making wild accusations and pushing stereotypes that he can’t offer concrete advice and support for our country,” echoed Brian Richardson, spokesman for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.). “The spirit of Louisiana is strong, and we can rebuild with or without Mr. Tancredo’s help.” A spokeswoman for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) declined to comment, saying the office’s efforts were focused on helping victims of the hurricane and that the Senator was in the state and unreachable.

One House GOP leadership aide dismissed Tancredo’s request saying, “Congressman Tancredo speaks for himself right now. We are in a crisis and doing everything possible to help the victims.”

In making his case, Tancredo cited a Sept. 7 Wall Street Journal opinion piece in which writer Bob Williams noted, “A year ago, as Hurricane Ivan approached, New Orleans ordered an evacuation but did not use city or school buses to help people evacuate. As a result, many of the poorest citizens were unable to evacuate. Fortunately, the hurricane changed course and did not hit New Orleans, but both Gov. Blanco and Mayor Nagin acknowledged the need for a better evacuation plan. Again, they did not take corrective actions.”

While he did not directly call Blanco, Nagin or any other current Louisiana elected official corrupt, Tancredo wrote that last year the director of the FBI in New Orleans called public corruption in the state “epidemic, endemic and entrenched” and that over the past 30 years a slew of officials, from governors to local sheriffs, have been convicted of crimes.

“Given the documented public corruption in the state, I am not confident that Louisiana officials can be trusted to administer federal relief aid,” he wrote.

Tancredo spokesman Will Adams explained that the Congressman’s chief complaint is that he believes Blanco and Nagin have been incompetent. “The corruption part of [the letter] was a throw-in on the side. … It just means we need to be more vigilant” with the Louisiana portion of the relief funding, Adams said.

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