Yesterday, two days after getting raked over the coals by the House Oversight Committee for being completely unprepared and botching the process for federal flood recovery aid, John Bel Edwards had his media flack Richard Carbo put out a lengthy memo ripping into Rep. Garret Graves for sabotaging him. It was a shabby, petulant communique which should make Louisianans reel with disgust at the blame-shifting and crass politics involved.
And it ought to bring back memories.
Gov. John Bel Edwards doesn’t appear to be taking the coal-raking he endured Wednesday (April 5) from House Republicans — and one Louisiana congressman in particular — lying down.
His office shot out a memo Thursday that aimed to put Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, on notice after Edwards endured nearly three hours of attacks from GOP members over how his administration responded to the historic August floods.
“Their words, particularly those of Congressman Garret Graves, can no longer be trusted,” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo wrote in the memo.
He blamed Graves for undermining the cooperation in Congress that led to the obligating of $1.6 billion in disaster aid for flood victims.
“It wasn’t until a single member of the (Louisiana) delegation began spreading wrong information that the bipartisan work began to deteriorate,” Carbo wrote. “The people of Louisiana deserve better.”
The timing is different, but otherwise this is so much like Kathleen Blanco’s attempts to pin her own poor response to Hurricane Katrina on George W. Bush it’s mind-boggling.
Nobody has made a full-on indictment of Edwards’ immediate response to the August floods, though he certainly wasn’t perfect – and it’s fair to say he got bailed out by the Cajun Navy, which filled in a lot of the gaps. But in the effort to get federal dollars into Louisiana to make flood recovery happen as quickly as possible, Edwards has been an unmitigated failure – and if Louisiana’s newspapers weren’t so nakedly partisan on his side the governor would have been thoroughly excoriated for it.
And Edwards is very aware of it as well. That’s why he searched around for a bad guy, and it appears he’s found Graves – who apparently is the ringleader on the House Oversight Committee and who tells Jason Chaffetz and Mark Meadows what to do and say when the governor shows up for a hearing on flood recovery.
Essentially, Carbo’s memo contains a couple of assertions. First, that it’s unfair to characterize the governor’s efforts at flood recovery as slow – Edwards said at Tuesday’s hearing that those efforts have come at “historic” speed, which is a little on the bold side. And second, that federal money couldn’t have come any faster.
Graves has some problems with these assertions, and those played out in the hearing – not particularly to Edwards’ benefit, by the way.
First, there’s the now-viral video of Chaffetz’ “You’re that clueless?” questioning of Edwards over how many Louisianans were displaced in the August floods…
This is a problem for Edwards, because it’s exceptionally difficult to make an accurate case for how much flood recovery aid the state needs if you don’t even know how many people are going to be getting that aid. And eight months on, you’re simply not going to get an accurate number – you needed to have it within a few weeks of the floods.
Which is where Graves’ examination of Edwards comes in. Graves brought up the fact he had a meeting with the governor just a few days after the flood in which he made the suggestion that Edwards hire, as soon as possible, a Program Manager who would come in and help shape the flood recovery efforts and help coordinate the state’s process with the federal government. One of the first things that Program Manager would do would be to survey the flood-damaged areas and stand up a website and hotline for folks to access and be put on the list of affected residents; that data collection would therefore serve as a basis for adding up what Louisiana needs from the feds.
But Edwards didn’t hire a Program Manager. In fact, that’s the contract which is still outstanding – it’s the one IEM bid $250 million for earlier this spring and had it rejected because IEM didn’t have a contractor’s license…and maybe more accurately because Larry Bankston, the executive counsel for the Louisiana State Board of Licensing for Contractors, has a son on the payroll of another firm which bid on the contract. It was Bankston who blew up the bidding for the Program Manager contract, which caused no small stir among observers who saw a classic case of Louisiana political corruption in the works.
And this is on Edwards’ watch. When Meadows questioned him about Bankston the governor had a “deer in the headlights” look on his face, and that’s a look that could well cost Louisiana hundreds of millions of dollars in federal flood recovery aid. It’s not like this state doesn’t have a bad reputation for wasting and stealing federal recovery money; we saw that in spades after Katrina. Presenting an organized, airtight, documented case for recovery money backed up by a showing that all your ducks are in a row and the process is transparent and honest would seem to be paramount.
But that’s not what Edwards has done. He went to Washington and met with Harry Reid rather than the state’s congressional delegation, and took marching orders from Reid – which resulted in Edwards lobbying Louisiana’s House delegation to provide funds to fix the water supply in Flint, Michigan as a condition of flood aid for the Bayou State. Then he took federal dollars for the ill-conceived and colossally-wasteful Shelter At Home program, which to an outsider looks like an effort to pay off some friendly contractors. Then he engaged in back-and-forth with Attorney General Jeff Landry over the latter’s objection to Bankston’s appointment with the licensing board, which led to Landry looking like a sage when Bankston blew up that bid and made the Edwards administration look like the criminal circus everyone associates Louisiana politics with. And now the current attempts to blame Graves for trashing what has been a “historic” flood recovery application, when it’s eight months on and Edwards still doesn’t have a contract let to put a recovery program in place for that $1.6 million.
Given all of this, it’s a bit surprising that the state’s media is treating Edwards’ claims about moving up the $1.2 billion second tranche of federal aid to be issued at the same time as the first $438 million tranche without a great deal of skepticism. But neither the Advocate nor the Times-Picayune have shown the least bit of curiosity over Edwards’ performance. That makes us wonder if they’re on board with this Blanco-style “Blame The Republican” strategy.
It blew up in Blanco’s face when she was caught on a CNN hot mic admitting fault in the Katrina response. One wonders what will be the point at which Edwards’ strategy will collapse.