Many people are suffering, particularly our friends in greater Houston, but it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good — at least in purely political terms.
Maybe things have not been going swimmingly for Gov. John Bel Edwards in the State Capitol, with budget and tax issues often snarled by opposition from the House GOP leadership. Outside of the building, Edwards remains a popular chief executive. This week’s events are likely to play to his strong points, and maybe provide a little help down the road with his problems with Congress.
The former Army captain, a Ranger, is close to law enforcement — he is from a family of sheriffs and policemen — and his work with local officials during the floods of 2016, and the shootings in Baton Rouge in July, earned him plaudits across party lines. That is reflected in good poll numbers for the lone Democratic statewide elected official.
Tragedies are not without their political implications, good and bad: Ask Aaron Broussard, the disgraced parish president in Jefferson, who withdrew men from the pumps during Hurricane Katrina. Or ask former Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was in deep political hot water because of a legislative pay raise debate in 2008. His situation was righted by his energetic performance as chief executive during hurricanes Gustav and Ike that summer.
Should Edwards continue to be a committed and engaged leader during this crisis, he will benefit politically.
The aftermath? Hard to judge right now, but one of the problems that Edwards had was the halting pace of federal recovery assistance from last year's floods. It was appropriated by Congress in fits and starts, and by the data compiled by the government’s own Federal Emergency Management Agency, is still $2 billion short of meeting the housing recovery needs from 2016.
Members of the Louisiana delegation in Congress, all but one Republicans, have worked on the aid package. The most outspokenly critical of Edwards has been U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, whose district was slammed by the 2016 floods. It’s hard to ask for more money when most of it, Graves complained just a few weeks ago, has not been received by homeowners yet.
The bureaucratic problems of recovery aid and its management will become familiar to southeast Texas over the coming months and years. It is no picnic; short-term money from FEMA will be of obvious value, but for the long term, recovery aid can become snarled in approvals and cross-checks.
But for Louisiana and Edwards, the Houston floods are quite likely a transformational event.
Surely a major aid package from Congress will attempt to clear the decks. Another $2 billion in that bill for Louisiana looks like a rounding error compared to the losses in Texas, although Louisiana’s southwestern parishes — at the least — will also require a new tranche of aid, beyond what the 2016 floods justified.
Unlike Edwards, President Donald Trump has not exactly reveled in poll results these days. But with his quick and entirely nonpartisan response to the Hurricane Harvey crisis, he clearly understands its importance for his administration. Without regard to party affiliation, he immediately directed every federal agency to help the governors of Texas and Louisiana, one Republican and one Democrat.
The long term consequences of such a dramatic turn of events cannot be easily predicted. But for both Trump and Edwards, good performance is likely to be rewarded with esteem from the voters.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Writing checks, the wags say, is what the United States government does best.