Politically Weakened By Katrina And Rita, Louisiana Gov. Blanco Won't Seek Re-Election

Wednesday, March 21st 2007, 7:37 am
By: News On 6

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) _ Speculation about Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's political future swirled for months amid criticism about the sluggish pace of the state's hurricane recovery.

Blanco ended the rumblings Tuesday by announcing she wouldn't seek a second term this fall, becoming the rare incumbent governor who had a chance at re-election and passed.

Blanco, Louisiana's first woman governor, said her exit will enable her to get her initiatives through an upcoming legislative session without having to worry about political considerations.

``I am doing this so we can work without interference from election year politics,'' she said at the Governor's Mansion. She announced her decision in telephone calls to legislative leaders, in a meeting with her cabinet secretaries and in a letter to her staff.

Blanco was seen as so politically weakened by hurricanes Katrina and Rita that Democratic powerbrokers questioned behind the scenes whether she was re-electable or whether she should step aside to give another Democratic candidate a better chance at the post.

Her staff denied that the governor succumbed to political pressure or was stepping aside so that popular Democratic former U.S. Sen. John Breaux might enter the race.

``She would much rather be governing than campaigning,'' said Jimmy Clarke, her chief of staff.

Elected in 2003, Blanco, from Louisiana's Cajun country, had already drawn a half dozen challengers for this fall's election, including popular Republican U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, whom she defeated the last time. Breaux said he wouldn't consider entering the race if Blanco was a candidate.

Blanco had been widely criticized not only for her immediate response to the storms, but also for a bureaucracy-bogged recovery effort.

That effort include the ``Road Home'' program, designed to funnel billions in federal dollars to pay hurricane-struck homeowners for repairs or buyouts. More than 117,000 people whose homes were damaged in 2005 by hurricanes Katrina and Rita have applied for Road Home aid. As of this week, about 3,800 have received grants.

The governor's announcement makes her a lame duck six weeks before lawmakers return to the state Capitol for their regular legislative session and only days after she proposed a record $29.2 billion budget.

Blanco, who has in the past blamed national Republicans for playing politics in the storm's aftermath, took a swipe in her brief Tuesday night speech at unidentified opponents who ``attempted to exploit those tragedies for partisan gain.''

Elliott Stonecipher, a pollster and demographer, said Blanco's exit from the governor's race was not shocking after the repeatedly bad publicity she's received since the hurricanes.

And he said it was a good move for the Democratic Party. ``This is something she's doing for the party. I don't think there's any question about that,'' Stonecipher said.

Blanco, 64, set modest goals and had mixed results early in her term _ she won passage of a series of business tax breaks in the Legislature but lost a proposed cigarette tax boost that was blocked by Republicans. Hurricane Katrina, which struck on Aug. 29, 2005, may have sealed her political fate.

Blanco was criticized for not requiring a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans earlier and not sending in buses sooner to evacuate the city's shelters after the storm.