Friday, May 25, 2007

Pork barrel (Katrina) politics in Mississippi

Chris Kromm and Sue Sturgis take A harder look at Haley Barbour's post-Katrina miracle in Salon 05/25/07. Rightwing Republican Governor Haley Barbour has raked in the cash for Katrina relief. But it's taking quite a while for that famous Republican "trickle-down" to get there for ordinary citizens.

They quote Roderick "Rocky" Pullman, president of the Board of Supervisors in hard-hit Hancock County on the Mississippi Gulf Coast:

The recovery is proceeding so slowly that, almost two years after the storm, most of his neighbors still can't get mail. Before Katrina, the majority of Pearlington residents used post-office boxes; but since no post offices -- or any other major city, county or school buildings in Hancock County -- have been rebuilt, they have to drive an hour round-trip to Bay St. Louis to pick up a letter.

"We've been asking for three post offices to be erected in Hancock County for well over a year now and have got no response whatsoever," Pullman says. "Those are the kind of things that really bother you. It's hard to get people to feel good when they have to spend the amount of money they do with the price of gasoline just to get their mail."

Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee with close ties to the Bush administration, has definitely proved more successful than his maligned Louisiana counterpart, Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco, in one respect: lobbying Washington for cash. In fact, Barbour's ability to steer a lopsided share of Katrina money to Mississippi has touched off a firestorm of outrage in Louisiana, which suffered considerably more destruction from the storm.
In the everything-is-partisan-politics administration of Dick Cheney and George Bush, Mississippi's two Republican Senators (Trent Lott and Thad Cochran) have no trouble getting federal money appropriated. But getting results for ordinary voters is another thing.

Interestingly enough, Mississippians have consciously hoped for pork-barrel appropriations for the state, leading them to return creeps like Thad Cochran (among other things, one of the most hardline torture supporters in the Senate) and Trent Lott to office time after time, seniority normally leading to increased clout.

For the residents of Hancock County, Barbour and Mississippi's ability to capture the lion's share of Katrina relief dollars makes the slow progress in their area all the more demoralizing. The county's 911 system still operates out of a trailer. Damaged wastewater and drainage systems frustrate hopes of a return to normalcy; earlier this month in Waveland, 16 miles east of Pearlington, a 9-and-a-half-foot alligator was found swimming in a drainage ditch next to a bus stop at 8 o'clock in the morning. Mayor Tommy Longo says the creatures freely roam throughout devastated residential areas.

Indeed, Hancock County was one of three Gulf Coast areas recently singled out as having "severe problems" by the Rockefeller Institute on Government and the Louisiana Public Affairs Council, with the towns of Waveland and Bay St. Louis flat-out "struggling to survive."

Most important, Hancock leaders say, Mississippi leaders and their federal allies have failed to use their clout to tackle some of the most obvious barriers to rebuilding.
I wouldn't pretend that enough white voters are likely to shift their support to the Democrats in Mississippi or other Deep South states that they are likely to make a major dent in the Republicans' current Solid South block.

But two of Mississippi's four Congressional Representatives are Democrats, though one of them often votes with the Republicans. And the Republicans sure aren't develivering very well for working people in the South, especially not in the hurricane-damaged areas of Mississippi.

But the Republicans are the White People's Party, i.e., they oppose laws and programs that might particilarly benefit blacks. And as long as that remains a major criterion for significant numbers of white voters in those states, the Republicans can continue to hold the most important statewide offices.

But Kromm and Sturgis give us a good snapshot of what Republican rule in the Deep South looks like in practice. And what it will continue to look like as long as the Republicans remain in their current authoritarian, neosegregationist mode.

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