Leader Blues

Friday, September 16, 2005

White House disappoints

by Ernie Dumas

Gov. Huckabee has been an unstintingly loyal Republican, sticking with the Bush White House for four and a half years on its most dubious and least defensible quests. For this most political presidency, that kind of allegiance ordinarily has proved to be the supreme test when the spoils are passed around, and it must account for the governor's pique at the administration this week.

No state has enlisted in the humanitarian effort to relieve the suffering of the victims of Hurricane Katrina like Arkansas. Texas has borne a larger burden in the aggregate, but it pales to Arkansas' sacrifice on a per-capita basis. Arkansas the state, schools and local governments, its churches, its charitable institutions and countless thousands of individuals made a Herculean effort to bring balm to the northward flow of suffering humanity from the stricken coast. Huckabee did what the president and his men should have done: The governor declared that the full resources of the state would be dedicated to help and he threw his office and himself into the task.

But when the governor and the congressional delegation asked Washington for a little help last week, they got a cold shoulder, a very cold shoulder. Texas got all the money that wasn't being spent on the coast. So much for political fealty.
Huckabee, unlike Asa Hutchinson, the all-but-official Republican candidate to succeed him, complained early on about the heedless inefficiency of the hapless Federal Emergency Management Agency and then backed off a bit. But then early the past week, an astonished Huckabee reported, a FEMA official called him to ask if any of the coastal refugees were in Arkansas. Only about 75,000. It made no difference. No financial help from the agency was forthcoming.

When the governor called Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary, who it is becoming clear was the biggest bungler in the whole scandalous operation, Chertoff told him in no uncertain terms that he would surrender no authority to the governor to direct relief in Arkansas. Federal documents this week disclosed that it was not the political hack who was forced out as head of FEMA last week but Chertoff himself who had the power to mobilize a massive response to the hurricane but who chose not to.

Thirty-six hours after the storm moved inland, Chertoff shuffled the duty off to poor Michael (Brownie) Brown, the FEMA director. We would like to think that Huckabee dropped his clerical mantle and gave him a piece of his mind.
As soon as the refugees began pouring into the state by car, bus and airlift, the state applied for a $30 million national emergency grant from the Department of Labor.

Wednesday, Sen. Blanche Lincoln was told that after they took care of Texas they had nothing left for Arkansas. The administration just drained the account.

Thursday night, the president made a well-staged but impressive speech in New Orleans' Jackson Square in which he promised a reconstruction effort unmatched in history and federal compensation to states that helped.

So Arkansas may yet be made whole for its Good Samaritan sacrifices. But a good speech has not proved to be a contract with this administration. We have a hunch that the governor's frustrations with his party and its chief are not behind him.