What Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor wanted the Easter Bunny to bring him.
South Mississippi Living 4/07

Monday, August 13, 2007

Katrina-Land: A Lesson in Crossing the Political Divide

by Ana Maria

Today is the day I’ve been looking forward to for quite sometime. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) leads a delegation to New Orleans and over to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to see the state of post-Katrina living. Last year I was living in San Jose, Calif., which is about an hour’s south of San Francisco—the district that Pelosi represents. I wasn’t here for Katrina, though plenty of my family members were. I remember when I read that Pelosi had led a delegation of Democrats to this area last year. I was thrilled!

I became happily stunned when I read that the town hall meeting was in my own hometown of Bay St. Louis, Miss. Then, I became almost speechless beaming from ear-to-ear when I realized that the Town Hall meeting was held in the parish hall of Our Lady of the Gulf Church parish hall. I had attended OLG elementary school and then Our Lady’s Academy from 7-12th grades. I felt honored though my strong separation of Church and State perspective wasn’t all that thrilled with it being held in a Catholic school setting. I have since found out that available venues are, indeed, a premium. Same goes for the one being held tonight. As this year’s delegation will find out, significant feats in recovery and rebuild are wholly absent in New Orleans and all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I’m glad that I’ll attend this year. Part of the purpose of the meeting, I believe, is a follow up from last year. Speaker Pelosi had told the Gulf Coast residents that if the Democrats gained control of the House of Representatives, that she would ensure that it would provide hearings for multiple peril insurance and pass it. A woman of her word, Speaker Pelosi has ensured that first two of the formal three-step process has already been met. The Republicans have been fighting this all the way, and the Bush White House has already announced its opposition to it.

Undeterred, Pelosi said she would do her part, and she is making good on her word. A subcommittee of and the full Finance Committee have passed the bill that would expand the federal flood insurance program to include wind. With one policy where American home and business owners can get both wind and flood insurance coverage, we won’t have private insurance industry deliberately failing to pay on the wind insurance policies as the industry has apparently done. We will have the option of having one policy and one carrier for both. Remember, the private insurance companies got out of the insurance business in the 60’s.

When Pelosi returns to the Katrina-ravaged region today, she does so as the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Where are the high ranking Republicans who ought to be attending? For that matter, where were they last year?

From what I have learned, once again, no Republican is attending. Not one. This is more than disappointing. When Katrina hit, the storm blew through Republican and Democratic homes and businesses alike. When Katrina hit, the storm devastated right wing Republican homes and businesses along with Democratic ones. When the insurance industry abandoned and betrayed Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana residents and business owners, it abandoned and betrayed Republican and Democratic ones simultaneously.

This hurricane was nonpartisan. The ensuing financial and physical devastation are nonpartisan. The depression and post-traumatic stress that plagues the areas residents and businessowners are nonpartisan. The cry for assistance is also nonpartisan. I am grateful that the highest levels of Democratic leadership as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi demonstrated last year and this are hearing and responding to our plea. It is the right thing to do. It is the moral thing to do. It is the compassionate thing to do.

Wasn’t it George W. Bush and Dick Cheney who campaigned on compassion? Apparently, it is the Democrats who DO compassion whereas Republicans only use it as a campaign slogan.

Isn’t the Republican Party the one that loves to campaign about being pro-family? Katrina hit families hard, and those families continue to hurt. Guess it isn’t the right year for campaign photo ops and speeches that give the impression of being pro-family, huh? Republicans TALK compassion. Democrats DO compassion.

Isn’t the Republican Party the one that likes to campaign on issues of fiscal responsibility? Oooops. Bush’s FEMA is anything but fiscally responsible. Take their handling of delivering formaldehyde-filled FEMA trailers. On the floor of the House of Representatives, Gulf Coast Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) spoke to the issue of the Bush Administration’s fraudulent practices through FEMA.

But those trailers were delivered by a friend of the president by the name of Riley Bechtel, a major contributor to Bush administration. He got $16,000 to haul a trailer the last 70 miles from Purvis, Miss., down to the Gulf Coast, hook it up to a garden hose, hook it up to a sewer tap, and plug it in, $16,000.
Isn’t the Republican Party the one that likes to campaign on issues important to business? When the insurance industry fails to pay on the wind insurance policies that its customers paid premiums, the industry members are not distinguishing between wrongfully denying customers based on whether they are residential or commercial customers. No, sir, they are not. As the insurance industry fails to pay out on its wind insurance policies for which business owners have paid their premiums, these businesses cannot rebuild, cannot open their doors, and cannot return to their customers and employees. The same is true when insurance rates are no longer affordable. To thrive, communities must have businesses: grocery stores, clothing stores, malls, auto repair shops, paint stores, music stores, movie theaters, restaurants, etc.

I have driven all along the Mississippi Gulf Coast from Lakeshore, Miss., on the far western corner along Beach Boulevard across the new Bay Bridge all the way to Biloxi about 40 miles away. I didn’t see ONE gas station. Not ONE. In fact, I hardly saw any businesses or residences or the construction of any of these either. Here we are up against the two-year anniversary. What I did see were plenty of wide open space where homes and businesses were once plentiful.

Tonight will be interesting from a number of perspectives. It’s my second one with Speaker Pelosi. Back in 2001, she held a town hall meeting in her district of San Francisco, which I attended. It was vibrant and alive. I felt exhilarated by the entirety of it all. A Bay kid (yours truly from Bay St. Louis, Miss.) at a town hall meeting in the hub of what the world knows as the Bay area of California—San Francisco. Most people there expressed outrage at the stolen 2000 presidential election.

(Boy, if the Bush White House neglect in Hurricane Katrina doesn’t demonstrate clearly that election outcomes have consequences . )

Tonight’s town hall meeting is going to be a fundamentally different topic. It’s going to be fundamentally different for me, though, because the topic is deeply personal. I’ve lived the post-Katrina life now for five months. I’m native. I needed no tutoring on the customs and values here. I possess them. I need no photos of the pre-Katrina landscape. I have vibrant memories seared in my mind. I need no explanation of why the Mississippi Gulf Coast residents—regardless of our ethnicity or when our ancestors arrived or how, think and act as they do. All of this is in my own DNA. I need no explanation of the values here for these are in my heart.

Throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we are all hard working, humble, modest people who value family, friends, and community. We are among the poorest areas in the country.
Folks around here tend to keep their head down and trudge through whatever obstacles are before them. We are fiercely independent in nature and value self-reliance even when help would make life easier, better. We are forever grateful when someone does assist us. Loyalty is big for us.

Our collective fascination with the intricacies of the political world is on par with that throughout the country. Not much. In the aftermath of the worst natural disaster, though, the only political sophistication that will remain seared in our collective memory is who came here to help. We’re forever grateful to all volunteers whether they came here in person or sent their George Washington envoy (money).

With the private insurance industry rolling over us and Bush’s FEMA, our memory of who helped us will have two faces on it today. Mississippi’s own Congressman Gene Taylor, a conservative, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a progressive. In a way, this is what it really means to reach across the proverbial political divide to get things done on behalf of the American people where ever we live in our nation.

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