Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The politics of Katrina

It is complicated. And will be complicated for years.  But already, politics are driving a lot of the coverage, if not actions, related to Katrina.

Seems like every day some analysis is done over the political fall out for George Bush. Important to remember, he won’t be on the ballot again. That is not to say that there isn’t significant national level politics entangled in this disaster.

Senator Mary Landrieu’s election in 2002 was part of the battle for control of the US Senate.  You might recall, she ran on primarily Republican issues despite being a Democrat.  She won a narrow election on the strength of strong Democrat turn out in New Orleans.  The Democratic machine in New Orleans delivered her Senate seat. Much of the rest of Louisiana is shifting Republican.  She’s back on the ballot for Re-election in 2008.

Governor Kathleen Blanco was elected in 2003, again by a small margin in a tight race in which New Orleans, again delivered the votes for her victory.  The Democratic machine in New Orleans played a crucial role in her election. She’s back on the ballot in October, 2007.

Mayor Ray Nagin was a registered Republican, political neophyte, who changed party affiliation to Democrat right before the 2002 Mayoral election. In 2003 he endorsed the Republican running against Blanco in the Governors race. His race was very interesting because the field included the New Orleans Police Chief.

Five of the seven Louisiana Representatives in Congress are Republican. The two Democrats represent – you guessed it – the New Orleans region of the state. The other congressional district touching the Hurricane disaster area is a Republican, Bobby Jindral who ran against Blanco for Governor, and was endorsed by Democrat Mayor Nagin.

The Senate seats are split evenly between the parties.  

A key in the politics of the Hurricane is that the area most heavily damaged in Louisiana is heavily Democratic. What are the dynamics for the Democrat Mayor of a city that has been evacuated, who faces re-election in 7 months? Especially with his Republican roots, and endorsement of a Republican for Governor in 2003.

In this tumultuous time for New Orleans and southeast Louisiana, there are three elections coming.  In April, Mayor Nagin will be up for re-election. Primary election in the mid-term congressional races will follow a few months later.  

In October 2007, Governor Blanco returns to the ballot. And in 2008, along with presidential elections Senator Landrieu will be on the ballot again.

On a national level, Louisiana is a battle ground state. Republicans have been gaining in Senate seats, and the Landrieu race was extremely competitive the last time around. Landrieu’s big base, New Orleans, will not be the same next time.

Mayor Nagin’s election is even more problematic, will the city even be occupied next April. Will Nagin’s Republican past play a role? (He contributed to Bush in 2000). Will elections be held? Will there be a Mayor of New Orleans?

Will the loss of a big block of New Orleans residents (Huge Democrat base) affect House races and make safe Democrat seats vulnerable in southeast Louisiana?  Or will Republican House members be saddled with a political disaster.  

Aside, will the mass of New Orleans Democrats being evacuated into Texas affect local politics there? Will those new Democrats be registered to vote in Tom Delay’s district? (Talk about redistricting?)

Politically, the constituent anger doesn’t benefit the incumbent.  A “vote the bums out” attitude crosses party lines and works to the advantage of a challenger.  The failure to get funding for levees for years will hurt incumbents in the House and Senate without regard to party affiliation, in New Orleans. While the overwhelming impact of hundreds of thousands of evacuees in a city or state elsewhere in the country is likely to generate increasing voter discontent as well.

It is no wonder that partisan bickering is already underway.  Congressional hearings on the disaster response are coming, and they are likely to be a flash point for the election season on the way.