Former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who recently revealed she is suffering from a form of liver cancer without a known cure, called for University of Louisiana-Lafayette graduates to embrace civility in a commencement address Friday.
She acknowledged that the speech, which she delivered on what happened to be her 75th birthday, could be her last public address.
The disease is one more fight for Blanco, who recalled facing dozens of opponents in political campaigns, including her early runs for the state legislature and the Public Service Commission. Along the way, she said, she treated opponents with respect, and many of those opponents became dear friends as a result.
“It’s made a huge difference in the quality of my life,” Blanco said. “There is a new intensity coming out of Washington today taking the country into a difficult place.”
At the same time, Blanco didn’t mince words when recounting a part of her mixed legacy that has garnered praise: her relentless struggle to squeeze recovery money from a Republican-controlled federal government after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Blanco said she was frequently met with insults from “haters and obstructionists,” who seemed much more keen on helping the Republican governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour.
Blanco said she eventually bypassed her partisan nemeses to appeal directly to President George W. Bush. That appeal, Blanco said, yielded an additional $4 billion on top of the $6 billion Congress initially provided. Still, it wasn’t enough. Louisiana would need an additional $3 billion, she said, and she was becoming angry.
“Every time I would go back, I had to steel myself,” Blanco said. “I thought, ‘How much more do we have to take?’”
But the 2006 election had shifted the winds in Washington, and Blanco said she experienced an abrupt difference in the treatment toward her. Suddenly, everyone wanted to help.
“I thought I had died and come back (as) Gov. Haley Barbour. Now I know how he felt,” Blanco said, adding that she considers Barbour a friend.
Blanco remained adamant that Republicans treated Louisiana unjustly in the initial recovery funding rounds, but her description of Washington fickleness illuminated her larger theme: that partisanship and ginned-up anger are harming Americans everywhere, of all persuasions — except those who profit from it.
“Someone, somewhere is profiting off that anger and outrage. They don’t care about us. They are cashing in on anger, and its big business,” Blanco said.
People have a choice, she said, to succumb to anger or to seek “peaceful serenity.”
“I recommend serenity,” Blanco. “Claim your personal power over what comes into your mind, into your life, into your world, into your family.”
To the citizens of Louisiana, my dearest family and friends, it is with a heart filled with gratitude that I write today to thank you for the …