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An Open Letter to Sen. Ted Stevens on Disaster Spending

Last week, I was mesmerized watching the debate between you and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) over spending cuts and the federally funded “bridge to nowhere” in your home state of Alaska.

When you got up and said you would essentially leave before turning over the money to help defray emergency repairs for the heavily damaged Interstate 10 along the Gulf Coast in the wake of the nation’s worst natural disaster, I became alarmed. Senator, we natives of the Gulf Coast really need some help.[IMGCAP(1)]

Please don’t disappoint the citizens of the United States who formerly resided along the Gulf Coast. No matter what anyone in Congress thinks about blacks, other minorities, poor whites or down-home, God-fearing Americans from Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama, we sure need some help right about now. Won’t you give us a hand?

Sir, with all due respect, let me ask you to consider this: Life in the wake of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina has been irrevocably changed for more than a half-million of our fellow citizens who remain homeless. They’re still waiting for the help their government promised. Won’t you give us a hand?

Every time I go home to see my family, I try to stay strong, but after seeing the insides of our homes, I cry like a baby. It’s horrible. Can you imagine losing everything — home, material possessions, regular family contact, neighbors, friends, job, school, church, synagogue and mosque? You get the point. Won’t you give us a hand?

Thank God my family sticks together. Otherwise, we would have fallen into deeper despair and hopelessness. I know Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff believes that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is getting its act together after a dismal and much-criticized performance during Katrina. Sen. Stevens, please tell the secretary that many citizens down home believe our government purposely left them to die. There’s nothing I can say or do to dispel this notion. But, you can — by following through on your promise to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. Won’t you give us a hand?

Throughout my life, I have witnessed and understood the “race card” in action. There’s no question: I am guilty of playing it from every angle, victim and master. I have been a victim, as one of America’s children born into poverty down South. Yet, with the intervention of the federal government and the American people, I made it. Now, there’s nothing more important than seeing other poor kids come out of this situation with the means to earn a good living and a better way of life. Won’t you give us a chance?

I wish I would not have to plead to Congress and the Bush administration to keep their promise to rebuild the Gulf Coast. But, I don’t have the pockets of Oprah, Bono, Bill Gates or the numerous millionaires in the U.S. Senate. I do not envy anyone who is rich. Hey, God bless every rich man and woman in the world. And when you millionaires get your blessing, please share it with those less fortunate. Won’t you share the sacrifice?

When Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) called on me and other individuals with Louisiana roots — such as Norman Frances, president of Xavier University, Walter Issacson, president of the Aspen Institute, Susan Taylor of Essence Magazine and veteran Republican strategist Mary Matalin — to sit down, break bread and come up with a vision for rebuilding our state, we accepted. Won’t you help make this vision possible?

I understand Congress’ deep concern about money. Fiscal responsibility is back in vogue, and that is a good thing. It’s long overdue, five years to be precise. But partisan gibberish aside, the truth is, given our commitment in Iraq and the rebuilding of a major port and cultural center of the United States, we need to find spending cuts in areas that have blossomed under our belt, including the Defense budget. The Gulf Coast should not play second fiddle to rebuilding Iraq. American victims deserve to be on equal footing. Won’t you give us a hand?

Sen. Stevens, you and every Member of Congress can and should do more than pay lip service to the pain and suffering of more than 2 million displaced American citizens and the millions of other citizens hosting them somewhere today. Everyone I can think of has reached deep inside and given a little more. Now, it’s your chance to make the necessary contribution, with proper oversight and accountability, to finance the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.

Now, if Congress acts quickly, it could send a message before the last two major holidays of this year — a message that the American people will stand together for a great cause. This is one of those rare, life-altering, transformative moments when Congress can stop being the master and empathize with victims of Katrina and Rita. See, poor people already know that Congress, as an institution, rarely keeps promises that benefit them. Let us hope that Congress will fulfill this critical covenant with Americans from all walks of life.

Thank you.

Donna L. Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.