It is very good news that the Senate voted last week to confirm W. Craig Fugate as administrator of FEMA. Fugate knows what he is doing. He will be the “anti-Brownie”—every bit as in command as Michael Brown and other Bushies were not. Having directed Florida’s Division of Emergency Management since 2001 (Florida is the most hurricane-prone state), Fugate is by far the best-prepared administrator FEMA will ever have had—even better than the highly respected James Lee Witt who under President Clinton did so much to restore pride and confidence in that long-neglected agency. (See “Fugate for FEMA” [3/17] below, and read Cooper and Block’s Disaster for the sad procession of political appointees who have headed FEMA since its inception in the late 1970s.) When candidate Obama said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” he may have been referring to Mr. Fugate. A thousand welcomes, sir. Can we get you a cup of coffee?
Now that Fugate has been approved, we have to say it was regrettable and embarrassing that Senator David Vitter of Louisiana chose to stall the nomination for over a week for reasons that were never very clear, but were patently political. Less than a month before hurricane season begins he pulls this stunt. How has it come about that Louisiana is blessed with two high-profile Republicans who for reasons of political ambition set themselves in opposition to the White House when the state has little to gain by irritating the office of the president and the Congress? If Louisiana were a rich and robust state that needed no federal help . . . but we’re not quite there yet.
Of all the states on the front lines of the hurricane belt, Louisiana is the state with the most to lose because of its comparative poverty, its not entirely functional elected officials and institutions, and its very soft, marshy soil that just barely separates its largest city and over a million citizens from the oncoming storm surge. The help Louisiana needs is not the help Vitter offers by playing politics with the nomination of an expert emergency response director whose help Louisiana will surely need; it’s not Bobby Jindal’s refusal of $98 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (aka the Stimulus) that would have extended unemployment insurance for up to 25,000 jobless Louisianans. And it’s certainly not the reckless endangerment that LSU’s banana republic vice chancellors inflicted on the state in firing Ivor van Heerden and downgrading the LSU Hurricane Center.
As we’ve noted earlier, Obama’s nomination of Fugate to head FEMA exemplifies a restoration of trust in government and illustrates the difference between Democratic and Republican views of how elected officials should function. It is because Obama has largely chosen very highly qualified individuals for the federal agencies that Americans are consistently reporting to pollsters a renewed confidence in the integrity of government and a sense that the nation is moving in the right direction.
We are grateful for whatever we can get (thank God for Fugate), but with our appetite for competence whetted, we’re hoping for similarly serious and results-oriented leadership for the state of Louisiana: for its flood protection, coastal restoration, and rebuilding its housing and health infrastructure (reopening Charity Hospital), among other Herculean labors.