Louisiana A Swamp of Corruption

John Fund articulates a view held quietly by many now that the immediate horror of Katrina is behind us: Louisiana’s corrupt political system can not be trusted with tens of billions of dollars in federal disaster funds.

A Swamp of Corruption (OpinionJournal)

No state turns out better demagogues than Louisiana–the state that Huey Long ruled with an near-fascistic fist and that inspired the new Sean Penn version of “All the King’s Men” that hits movie theaters this November. While the Bush administration and Congress aren’t in danger of being fried as witches, they better figure out that they and the taxpayers are about to be fleeced like sheep as they ship south $62 billion in emergency aid with few controls or safeguards.

More will be coming. Last week, Louisiana’s two senators didn’t even blink when they asked the feds for an ultimate total of $250 billion in assistance just for their state. “We recognize that it’s a very high number,” Sen. Mary Landrieu admitted. “But this is an unprecedented national tragedy and needs an unprecedented national response.”

Even if the total ends up far short of that figure, the opportunity for fraud and waste will be unprecedented. “We’re getting a lot of calls” on emergency aid abuses, reports Gen. Richard Skinner, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general. Last week, police officers found a treasure trove of food, drinks, chainsaws and roof tarps in the home of Cedric Floyd, chief administrative officer for the Jefferson Parish suburb of Kenner. Mr. Floyd is one of several city workers who will likely be charged with pilfering.

Despite assurances from President Bush, “the government is fighting this war [on waste] with Civil War weapons, and we’re just overwhelmed,” Joshua Schwartz, co-director of the George Washington University Law School’s procurement law program, told Knight Ridder. Democrats are already scoring political points. Rep. David Obey, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, is lamenting the lack of accountability in the aid package. He is calling for “the beginning of some new thinking” on how to handle disaster relief.

Put bluntly, the local political cultures don’t engender confidence that aid won’t be diverted from the people who truly need and deserve it. While the feds can try to ride herd on the money, here’s hoping folks in the region take the opportunity to finally demand their own political housecleaning. Change is past due. Last year, Lou Riegel, the agent in charge of the FBI’s New Orleans office, described Louisiana’s public corruption as “epidemic, endemic, and entrenched. No branch of government is exempt.”

Louisiana ranks third in the nation in the number of elected officials per capita convicted of crimes (Mississippi takes top prize). In just the past generation, the Pelican State has had a governor, an attorney general, three successive insurance commissioners, a congressman, a federal judge, a state Senate president and a swarm of local officials convicted. Last year, three top officials at Louisiana’s Office of Emergency Preparedness were indicted on charges they obstructed a probe into how federal money bought out flood-prone homes. Last March the Federal Emergency Management Agency ordered Louisiana to repay $30 million in flood-control grants it had awarded to 23 parishes.

Sadly, Fund is right. The late Southern humorist Lewis Grizzard joked that corrupt former Governor Edwin Edwards escaped punishment so often because they couldn’t find twelve people from Louisiana that thought stealing was a crime. Indeed, Edwards was re-elected in 1991 in a tight race against Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke under the banner “vote for the crook.”

Turning billions over to the Powers that Be in Louisiana is almost certainly a disaster waiting to happen. I have no reason to think Governor Kathleen Blanco or Mayor Ray Nagle are crooks. On the other hand, I have no reason to think they’re competent, either.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    All very true, alas, & also a big hint why states in general, & La. in particular, could not be relied upon to plan and conduct their own emergency responses.

  2. Herb says:

    If there is any corruption in the disaster funds in Louisiana, They can always blame it on Mike Brown and FEMA.

    The MSM will go along with it.

    Louisiana Citizens will go along with it.

    Mayor Negin will go along with it

    So will Governor Blanco.

    And lastly, Mike Chertoff will go along with it as long as his rear end is covered.

  3. Although “The South” now has the ability to rise again by rebuilding “Totally Green Category 5 Buildings and Homes. I do feel that The Powers-to-Be in that area will be more worried about lining their pockets with money.

  4. ken says:

    Fund, as usual is an idiot.

    The story is already out. Eighty percent of the Federal money committed has been let out with no-bid contracts. Guess who the winners are? Companies who paid Republican political hacks for influence, included Haley Barbour, Gov of Miss.

  5. Herb says:

    Don’t pay a lot of attention to Ken,

    He has often shown that he is not prejudiced,

    He just HATES everybody.

  6. Jill Henry says:

    If Duke had been elected Governor, the primary effect would have been publicity for the pro-white movement, those people who want to maintain white societies with traditional societies. A kind of society that most white people would want to live in, especially if they plan to have children.

    Jill
    http://www.nationalvanguard.org

  7. Ray Nagin says:

    James:

    It isn’t Nagle, it’s Nagin. Mayor C. Ray Nagin. Please call or write if you need help in spelling it next time.

    Thanks,
    Ray

    1300 Perdido St.
    New Orleans, LA 70112
    Office: 504-565-6580
    Fax: 504-565-6588

  8. McGehee says:

    If David Duke had been elected Governor of Louisiana, the primary effect would have been to demonstrate that Louisiana politics is not merely corrupt but bat$#!t crazy.

  9. Herb says:

    Ray Nagin:

    Well well I guess James made a mistake,

    But not like the one you did when you didn’t evacuate the people prior to the storm by letting the busses get flooded before they were used. SHAME SHAME on you Nagle

  10. John says:

    I’ve never been to New Orleans. I had the chance to visit a few times, but my impression of the place was that it was full of half-awake people that didn’t care much about anything beyond when last call at the local bar was.

    Post hurricane(s), I hear people blather on about how the place must be rebuilt to its former glory to preserve the “cultural hertiage” so important to America.

    So I’m supposed to put my grandchildren further into debt to rebuild a place whose only claim to fame I can see is giving beaded necklaces to ditzy women who show their breasts in public; to support a political system that is the third highest in corruption as measured by politicos convicted per capita; and to a place thats always in the running for murder capital of the world?

    I don’t think so – and I’ve told my congresscritters so.