Of all the words spoken down through the ages in the halls of our state government, none resound with greater authority than these: “We, the people of Louisiana.”
With those five words, our state’s Constitution defines the true purpose of government by the consent of the people it serves. It makes explicit that, above all else, our government exists to advance and defend the rights of our people, rights enshrined in that hallowed document as “inviolate.”
Every citizen of Louisiana has a right to be safe — to have safe drinking water, clean air, and to be safe from storm surge flooding.
It can be hard, at times, to discern the will of our wondrously disparate and diverse people and harder still to craft bills that faithfully reflect that will.
But in the case of the group we depend on to protect the people of greater New Orleans from flooding, the people have spoken quite clearly. Eighty-two percent of voters across Louisiana rose up from the ruins of Hurricane Katrina to say this: Take politics and patronage out of our levee system and put accountability and professionalism back in.
Our levees are the last line of defense against hurricanes and the deadly and disastrous flooding they cause. In a mission with stakes that large, we cannot tolerate partisan tinkering and the ineptitude it can breed.
That principle is no mere suggestion. It, too, is the law of the land, written into our Constitution in 2006 as an expression of the will of the people inviolate.
On Tuesday, the House will be asked to turn its back on that law and cast a vote for Senate Bill 553, which would take us back to the days when our levees were the playground of political cronies and hangers-on.
SB553 would limit the ability of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East to hire legal counsel — exactly the kind of professional help called for in the Constitutional amendment that created the levee authority in Katrina’s wake.
But the real aim of this bill is to end a lawsuit the levee board filed last summer to hold the oil and gas industry to account for the damage it has done to the coastal lands of our state.
The levee board believes the law requires the oil and gas companies to repair the damage they did.
If the oil and gas companies have obeyed the law, why wouldn’t they want a judge to say so? If they haven’t, why shouldn’t they be held to account?
That’s what our House of Representatives must answer on Tuesday.
We are counting on each and every member to honor the great promise of our Constitution. Say no to this pernicious bill. Say yes to the law of the land. And stand up for the rights of we the people of Louisiana, inviolate.
Lt. General Russel HonorÉ
U.S. Army, retired