Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) has made history. In doing so, he is poised to take office amid much anxiety in my home state of Louisiana on Jan. 14 as the nation’s youngest current — and first Indian-American — governor. [IMGCAP(1)]
Soon after his victory Saturday, Jindal told reporters, “If I go down as one of the more boring but effective governors, I’ll take that as a great compliment.” Boring, he will not be. If he proves to be effective, suffice it to say that Jindal will have yet again made his mark on Louisiana’s history books.
Two years after the worst storms hit its shores, Louisiana has made tremendous progress in its long road to recovery. Yet so much remains to be accomplished. To push the recovery into full gear and complete the state’s revival, the next governor must create what is now lacking: a strong partnership between the federal, state and local governments. As many of my friends have told me repeatedly, Louisiana has reached a critical stage in its recovery. Jindal will have no choice but to work in a bipartisan manner.
Despite his relative youth, Jindal is as polished a politician as our state’s previous governors were colorful. He knows the state intimately, from Shreveport to Bayou Lafourche. There’s no great secret behind Jindal’s electoral success. After losing in the 2003 runoff to Louisiana’s first female governor, Kathleen Blanco (D), Jindal never stopped raising money or his profile. Now the real work begins, and Louisianans of all political stripes and fancy Creole and Cajun flavors are waiting to see if this wonky governor-elect can deliver on his campaign promises.
The Louisiana Recovery Authority, the state agency that has guided the recovery thus far and of which I am a member, has worked tirelessly to make its case for federal assistance. President Bush, who promised so long ago to “do what it takes,” will now be under increasing pressure to work with Jindal to help remove the remaining roadblocks to the state’s recovery.
Recently, the Louisiana Recovery Authority Board endorsed and updated a federal recovery priorities list for both the president and the Democratic-controlled Congress. The most pressing need for those still struggling is for the federal government to help Louisiana close the funding gap in the Road Home Homeowner Assistance Program.
Less than 100 days from today the Road Home program will run out of money, leaving tens of thousands of homeowners and families without the critical funding they need to rebuild their homes. Those homeowners, including members of my own family, are becoming increasingly worried that the government will not fulfill its commitment. I know it’s frustrating to hear that Louisiana needs more money, but the level of damage per home has turned out to be greater than projected.
Compared with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s original 50 percent estimate, Road Home inspections tell us that 70 percent of eligible homes should have been characterized as having severe damage under FEMA guidelines. And Congress should look into why both flood and hazard insurance payments are covering less than originally predicted by industry experts.
Jindal will need roughly $3.3 billion in additional Road Home funding to ensure homeowners are able to get back on their feet and into their homes. Louisiana has pledged to spend $1 billion of its own money, and if Bush is steadfast in his commitment to doing what it takes, he will help.
Another pressing need is to get Congress to pass a bill to assure the rebuilding of affordable housing so necessary for the return of South Louisiana’s workforce. Never again should we develop housing that forces families into concentrated poverty, and we should take this opportunity to build high-quality affordable housing in mixed-income neighborhoods.
Although Louisiana and most of the Gulf Coast have survived yet another storm season, the next governor must call upon the federal government to help Louisiana shore up the levees and invest in coastal restoration projects. It’s time for Congress and the president to assist one of America’s oldest cities, New Orleans, with the re-establishment of a 100-year flood protection plan for the entire metropolitan region.
There are so many families still in crisis. South Louisiana is awash in crime, and its criminal justice system is in desperate need of revival. So many families will have to spend another holiday season away from home or in a FEMA trailer. Many of these families are suffering mental hardships. They are depressed. They are in distress. They are in need of housing assistance.
Jindal will have to work with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to ensure that citizens and those who visit them will be safe. Financing and technical assistance are needed to assist small businesses and entrepreneurs still struggling to get back on their feet.
It is critical that the Jindal administration continue to rebuild areas of the state devastated by Hurricane Katrina, and a continued economic expansion will require a trained work force. The Louisiana Legislature has funded an aggressive construction work force training program. The new governor’s support for these efforts will be critical for the state’s long-term recovery and economic growth.
Long before the two hurricanes killed more than 1,000 people, swept away homes and businesses, and flooded schools, hotels and neighborhoods, Louisiana was ranked near the bottom on every national list, from education to health care. Still, many of us called it home because we had a roof over our heads and hope for a better day.
Over the past two years, people continue to ask what they can do to help Louisiana. Starting now, we can ask the president and Congress to work with our new governor. Provide him with the necessary tools to help the good people rebuild their lives and their homes. Louisiana is still alive with great possibilities. Now, its future will be in the hands of a newly elected governor who hopes to be its most boring.
Donna Brazile, the campaign manager for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore in 2000, runs her own grass-roots political consulting firm.