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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Coast will miss senator's dogged Katrina work

Lott says he's trying to tie up loose ends on hurricane legislation

By Natalie Chandler
November 27, 2007

A retiring Sen. Trent Lott promised Monday to continue pushing legislation that will help the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina, a storm that made him reconsider earlier plans of leaving office.

But he said it would be difficult to advance the bills before he leaves at the end of the year.

And Gulf Coast leaders said his absence will make it much more difficult for the area to rebuild from devastation that still lingers.

Lott, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, and others in the state's congressional delegation won praise for securing billions of recovery dollars for south Mississippi.

A state-run grant program seemed to move more quickly one year after the storm after he and 4th District Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat, publicly urged officials to make changes and speed distribution.

Of Lott's retirement, the Rev. Richard Young of Escatawpa said, "Nobody down here's ready for that yet."

"If they put somebody in there that don't know us and have the feelings for us, it will be many years before this Gulf Coast recovers," said Young, whose church has not been rebuilt.

In a statement, Taylor said that Lott, whose Pascagoula home was destroyed in the storm, "understands the sense of loss that so many of us experienced, and this perspective has made him an especially effective advocate on recovery-related issues."

Taylor, who also lost his Bay St. Louis home, has worked with Lott on legislation that would offer federally funded insurance for disaster victims.

Insurance companies denied claims made by Lott, Taylor and many of their constituents after the Aug. 29, 2005, storm.

Company officials have said their policies cover a hurricane's wind but not its rising water.

"Hopefully, Trent can arrange a Senate floor vote before he retires, and I pledge to help with any assistance that I can provide," Taylor said.

Lott said he's had problems "getting the appropriate committee in the Senate to step up. I'll keep working on it."

He also has championed a bill that would revoke an antitrust exemption for insurance companies, which have been accused of conspiring to deny claims.

Lott said that while he still supports the legislation, it may be too difficult to pass.

Other issues have slowed the bill and killed its momentum, he said.

A committee chairman in charge of the legislation doesn't believe there are enough votes to sustain the bill, he added.

Lott said he spoke with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy on Monday. "I said, 'Pat, do me a favor. Get a vote on this repeal of the antitrust exemption. This is something I feel strongly about. Help me with a going-away present,' " Lott said.

Lott had considered retiring before Katrina flattened and flooded his hometown. His mother died earlier that year.

"I dare say that without Lott and (Sen. Thad Cochran) and Taylor, the Gulf Coast would be pretty much still in the Stone Ages," said Jackson County supervisor John McKay. "It's just going to be extremely difficult to replace (Lott's) leadership for (hurricane recovery) and for the whole state."

"The feeling in Washington has been, 'It's been two years; let's move on to the next thing,' " said Mayor Tommy Longo of Waveland, where city offices still are housed in FEMA trailers.

"(Lott) has understood our needs and that it was going to take longer and that we were going to need more help," Longo said.

Lott's office quickly helped whenever issues with FEMA arose, officials agreed.

In June, Lott settled with his insurance company. He and his wife, Tricia, live near Jackson.

Lott has placed a manufactured home on his Pascagoula property. He has not rebuilt, although he has said he would like to.

"So many people had needs for materials and workers," he said. "Our neighbors were still trying to rebuild.

"We didn't think, since we had a place to hang our hat, that we need to rush and (rebuild.) And I have to be honest. My wife is very concerned about rebuilding on the water."

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