Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sebelius and Blanco -- weak demagogue governors

Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius is not the weak, vacillating, and impotent executive that Kathleen Blanco (D-La.) is -- three characteristics that have led to Blanco's 10% approval rating and polling level at 15%, the two reasons she will not run for reelection this year. Blanco mismanaged the post-Katrina disaster relief efforts through her ineptitude and woeful lack of fortitude.

Sebelius is different: she is actively thwarting the efforts of Kansans to assist, rebuild and repair the village of Greensburg, which was essentially destroyed by a tornado last week. Here's the crux of her demagoguery and reasons for Kansans to drum her out of office in the next gubernatorial election:

The story that first went around the world was a testament to the self-reliance and resiliency of Kansans. Greensburg, it was clear, was no New Orleans. When the clouds lifted, local residents started digging out. Their neighbors were there in minutes: Local towns and villages descended on the small town and got to work because, as any Kansan will tell you, that’s how you get ’er done. People get together and get to work.

. . . using whatever was at hand, in a few hours the streets were open for emergency vehicles — which, in small-town parlance, means not only ambulances and fire trucks from other small towns, but also an armada of pick-ups, tractors, dozers, loaders, and heavy trucks owned by practically everyone within a 50-mile radius. After all, this is a part of the world where most people commute to work on a big machine that beeps when it goes backwards.

The next day, the state’s Republican U.S. Senator, Pat Roberts, along with two local congressmen, were on the scene, surveying the destruction and reporting back on what they were seeing. On Sunday evening, two full days after the disaster, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius made her appearance.

During that two-day period, two things happened that changed the story from one of small-town heroism to one about the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. In Greensburg, outside civilian help was kept out by emergency management teams — perhaps accounting for the “unmistakable emptiness in Greensburg, a lack of heavy machinery and an army of responders” reported this morning by the New York Times.

* * *
Melvin Neufeld, the Speaker of the Kansas house — and also a farmer from Ingalls, another small town about an hour northwest of Greensburg — explained what he thought accounted for that “unmistakable emptiness” reported by the Times: “We had people there, people who had been doing the work and other people who wanted to be included. That’s how we do things here. We don’t wait for the government. We just get the job done. But all those people were kept out.”

* * *
As the Topeka Capital-Journal’s Ric Anderson writes this morning, “Sebelius works without a carefully crafted game plan about as often as Ashton Kutcher finishes a novel. She’s calculating and cautious, which is a big part of why she’s won two terms as governor in a Republican state.” It took a couple of days, but finally Sebelius released a statement claiming that relief efforts in Greensburg were being hampered by the absence of state National Guard equipment. It had been taken to fight the war in Iraq.

This is bollocks, as Denis Boyles points out, because the National Guard had sufficient manpower and materiel on site quickly.

By Monday morning, the Greensburg story had a new hook, one that played much more comfortably in the national media. It wasn’t about those resilient Kansans, after all. It was about Bush and Iraq. When the A.M. talk shows went on the air, Sebelius was ready. “[Having Guard equipment in Iraq] is a huge issue,” she told Fox’s Steve Doocy. “We’re missing Humvees, frontloaders, and dumptrucks.” And, she added, she couldn’t ask for help from neighboring states, because their stuff was in Iraq, too. Her closer: “We need those assets back in the United States.” Suddenly, Kansas was on the
Huffington Post, and by what Kansans call “dinner time” — lunch to us — this was how Reuters was covering Greensburg:

* * *

The press has run with this story, of course. The Katrina effect — exploiting a natural disaster for political gain — is irresistible, and for Harry Reid and anyone else who needs a good attack bite, Greensburg will do. By Tuesday, according to the AP, Barack Obama was blaming Bush and Iraq for the death of 10,000 people in Greensburg. [Actual death toll = 12] Today, it’s on the front page of the New York Times, right where Sebelius apparently wanted it to be: “The emergency response was too slow,” the Times reports her saying, “and there was only one reason.”

Yes, she didn't ask for help. Just like Blanco failed. But Sebelius' failure is part of a more nefarious ambition. More Boyles:

. . . First, if the governor thought there was going to be a delay, or if she felt she needed more equipment, why didn’t she ask for it Saturday?

“All she had to do was ask,” the Defense Department’s Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke told me. “We can’t make that decision on our own and start imposing people and equipment on our own. The state has to ask.”

In addition to thousands of available Guard personnel, Krenke said, there’s enough heavy equipment available to Sebelius to turn tiny Greensburg into a heavy-equipment parking lot — including more than 350 Humvees, hundreds of trucks, tractors, trailers, and other pieces of heavy machinery — along with thousands more sitting parked in neighboring states.

“It’s all there,” Krenke said. “The equipment and people are available and a process is in place for getting it. But they haven’t chosen to use it.” The adjutant-general of the Kansas National Guard is working with Washington, Krenke said. “He should be advising her of all this.” The adjutant-general’s press officer didn’t respond to a request for a comment.

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In Greensburg itself, a “slow” relief effort certainly isn’t quite what people are seeing. “I’m very impressed,” Deborah Factor, one of the few homeowners in Greensburg to still have a home, told me by phone yesterday. “There are Guardsmen everywhere — picking up, cleaning up, shoveling stuff. And there’s food everywhere. I have not found one single person from Greensburg with a complaint. We’re grieving our losses, but most of us are grateful for friends and family and glad to be alive.”

A disgraceful performance by Gov. Sebelius.

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