Kathleen Blanco

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Kathleen Blanco
KBlancoChalmetteIce.jpg
Governor Kathleen Blanco speaking at the dedication of the Southeast Louisiana Regional Ice Hub in Chalmette, Louisiana on August 23, 2006.
54th Governor of Louisiana
In office
January 12, 2004 – January 14, 2008
Lieutenant Mitch Landrieu
Preceded by Murphy J. Foster, Jr.
Succeeded by Bobby Jindal
50th Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
In office
January 8, 1996 – January 12, 2004
Governor Murphy J. Foster, Jr.
Preceded by Melinda Schwegmann
Succeeded by Mitch Landrieu
Louisiana Public Service Commissioner
In office
1989–1996
Succeeded by Jimmy Field
Louisiana State Representative from District 45 (Lafayette Parish)
In office
1984–1989
Succeeded by Jerry Luke LeBlanc (son of J. Luke LeBlanc)
Personal details
Born Kathleen Babineaux
(1942-12-15) December 15, 1942 (age 71)
New Iberia, Louisiana, USA
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Raymond Sindo Blanco
Children Karmen, Monique, Nicole, Ray, Pilar, and Ben.
Residence Lafayette, Louisiana
Alma mater University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Profession Marketing Consultant, Teacher
Religion Roman Catholicism

Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (born December 15, 1942) served from January 2004 to January 2008 as the 54th governor of the U.S. state of Louisiana. A Democrat, she is the first woman to have been elected as governor of Louisiana.

When first elected, Blanco outlined her top priorities as providing affordable healthcare, improving the education system in the state, and helping to create a strong and vibrant economy through aggressive economic development initiatives. Her work as governor changed dramatically when, in 2005, coastal Louisiana was severely damaged by two hurricanes that stuck less than a month apart. In August, Hurricane Katrina devastated the New Orleans region, an urban area of 1.4 million people. Then, in September, Hurricane Rita struck the southwestern coast, displacing another 300,000 people. More than 200,000 housing units were destroyed, 81,000 businesses closed, entire electrical and telecommunication systems were torn apart, and one million people were made homeless as a result of severe flooding caused by levee failures and storm surges.

Many believed the immediate response from the city, state, and federal governments was inadequate, and Blanco later acknowledged there were failures on the part of her administration before and after the storm; much criticism, however, was directed at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for what was seen as a slow initial response to the disaster and an inability to effectively manage, care for and delivered promised resources to those trying to evacuate from New Orleans.

Blanco announced in March 2007 that she would not seek re-election later that year, saying that she would instead "focus [her] time and energy for the [remainder of her term] on the people's work, not on [the] politics" of running for another term.

Early life and career[edit]

She was born Kathleen Babineaux in New Iberia, Louisiana, the daughter of Louis Babineaux and his wife, the former Lucille Fremin, both of Cajun ancestry. Her Babineaux grandfather was a farmer and grocer with a country store, and her father was a small businessman who moved to the rural hamlet of Coteau near New Iberia; the community has one church and one elementary school. Blanco attended Mount Carmel Academy, an all-girls school run by the Roman Catholic Sisters of Mount Carmel, which was situated on the banks of Bayou Teche. (The school closed in the middle 1980s with the majority of girls transferring to Catholic High School). In 1964, Blanco received a Bachelor of Science in Business Education from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, then named the University of Southwestern Louisiana. She is also a member of Kappa Delta Sorority.[1] On August 8, 1964, she married Raymond Blanco, a football coach and educator; the couple has four daughters: Karmen, Monique, Nicole, and Pilar and two sons: Ray, Jr., and Ben.

Following college, she taught business at Breaux Bridge High School. She then worked for roughly fifteen years as a stay-at-home mom for her six children. She later worked as a District Manager for the U.S. Department of Commerce during the 1980 Dicennial Census initiative and with her husband, owned Coteau Consultants, a political and marketing research firm.

Prior to her election as governor, Blanco served twenty years in public office. In 1983, elected as the first woman legislator from the city of Lafayette, she served five years in the Louisiana House of Representatives. In her first term, she and her friend Evelyn Blackmon of West Monroe were two of only five women in both houses of the legislature.[2] Blanco in 1988 defeated the Republican Kernan "Skip" Hand to become the first woman in Louisiana elected to the Louisiana Public Service Commission, a post that she held for seven years, She was also the first woman chairman of the PSC. She was then elected Lieutenant Governor, a post that she held for eight years.

Governor of Louisiana[edit]

Blanco was elected on November 15, 2003, defeating her Republican opponent Bobby Jindal, in the general election, by a margin of 52 to 48 percent. On January 12, 2004, she took the oath of office in both English and French languages, succeeding Murphy J. Foster, Jr.. She retained Foster's chief of staff, Andy Kopplin. She named as the new state commissioner of administration Jerry Luke LeBlanc, who had succeeded her in the state House in 1989 when she became a public service commissioner. Oddly, Blanco in 1987 had won her second, abbreviated term in the House by defeating LeBlanc's father, former Representative J. Luke LeBlanc. Blanco traveled more than her predecessor, seeking new sources of economic development for the state. She visited Nova Scotia, and in December 2004 visited Cuba to boost its trade with the state. During this controversial visit, she met with President Fidel Castro, with whom the United States government has no formal diplomatic relations. In 2005, Governor Blanco also visited Asia (primarily Japan, China, and Taiwan).

Despite the upheaval of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, by the end of her term she met all of her initial goals, most notably prioritizing education investment from pre-kindergarten to the university level. She recruited a number of businesses to Louisiana and established policies to lay a foundation for the recovery of coastal Louisiana.

As governor, she was a member of the National Governors Association, and the Democratic Governors Association, and served as president of the Southern Governors' Association.

As the president of the state Senate, Blanco tapped Donald E. Hines, a family physician from Bunkie in Avoyelles Parish, who held the position during her entire administration.[3]

Hurricane Katrina[edit]

On August 27, 2005, Governor Blanco, speaking about Hurricane Katrina, told the media in Jefferson Parish, "I believe we are prepared. That's the one thing that I've always been able to brag about." Later that day she issued a request for federal assistance and USD $9 million in aid to U.S. President George W. Bush, which stated, "...I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments, and that supplementary Federal assistance is necessary to save lives, protect property, public health, and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a disaster. I am specifically requesting emergency protective measures, direct Federal Assistance, Individual and Household Program (IHP) assistance, Special Needs Program assistance, and debris removal." Also in the requesting letter, the governor stated: "In response to the situation I have taken appropriate action under State law and directed the execution of the State Emergency Plan on August 26, 2005 in accordance with Section 501 (a) of the Stafford Act. A State of Emergency has been issued for the State in order to support the evacuations of the coastal areas in accordance with our State Evacuation Plan."

FEMA issued a statement dated August 27, that President Bush authorized the allocation of federal resources, "following a review of FEMA's analysis of the state's request for federal assistance. A White House statement of the same date also acknowledges this authorization of aid by President Bush. On August 28, Governor Blanco sent a letter to President Bush, which increased the amount of aid requested to US $130 million.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Blanco, President Bush and Louisiana Senator David Vitter

Governor Blanco oversaw the massive evacuation of 93 percent of the New Orleans area, and the subsequent rescue effort utilizing state employees, law enforcement agencies from across the state and nation, citizen volunteers and federal emergency services such as the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Military. More than 60,000 people were rescued and removed from the affected region after the storm. As Commander-in-Chief of the Louisiana National Guard, Blanco called on her fellow governors for troop reinforcement as more than a third of her own soldiers and airmen were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The response from states delivered nearly 40,000 troops to her command, one of the largest domestic activation of troops in the nation's history.

On September 1, 2005, with reports of looting and lawlessness escalating, Governor Blanco announced she was sending 300 Louisiana National Guardsmen to supplement the New Orleans Police Department, saying, "These troops are fresh back from Iraq. They are well-trained, experienced, battle-tested and under my orders to restore order in the streets. These are some of the 40,000 extra troops that I have demanded. They have M-16's, and they're locked and loaded. When hoodlums victimize and inflict suffering on people at their wit's end, they're taking away our limited resources, or whatever resources we have, to save babies, or save children and to save good people. I have one message for these hoodlums. These troops know how to shoot and kill and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.[4] This followed President Bush's statement that looters in New Orleans and elsewhere in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina should be treated with "zero tolerance."[5]

President Bush, during a visit to Louisiana September 2, 2005, five days after the storm, offered to federalize the Louisiana National Guard to simplify the command structure. The Governor declined, because the Guard would then become part of the federal military forces and therefore lose much-needed policing powers. The President subsequently continued to press the offer so Governor Blanco rejected it in writing, citing the need for flexibility in National Guard operations, particularly the need for Guard in areas other than New Orleans where the military is not currently operating. Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi reportedly declined a similar offer from the President. Had either state's National Guard been federalized, they would not have been able to directly enforce Louisiana state law (i.e., control looting) under the provisions of the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act. It has not previously been a policy during natural disasters to combine the command of National Guard and military operations under the authority of the President. President Bush had the power to take command of a state's National Guard units under the Insurrection Act of 1808 without the agreement of a state Governor, but no President had done this since Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and President Bush had so far also declined to do so. However, Governor Blanco and Major General Bennett Landreneau, Louisiana Adjutant General and senior Louisiana National Guard officer, co-operated closely[citation needed] with U.S. Army Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, who was then commanding Federal military operations under Joint Task Force Katrina.

CNN and Fox News reported the Louisiana Homeland Security Department (which operated under the authority of Governor Blanco) refused to allow the American Red Cross to enter the city of New Orleans.,[6][7] The[8] American Red Cross confirms that the organization had not entered the city to provide aid, but also states that it is providing relief at the evacuation centers: "As the remaining people are evacuated from New Orleans, the most appropriate role for the Red Cross is to provide a safe place for people to stay and to see that their emergency needs are met. We are fully staffed and equipped to handle these individuals once they are evacuated." The deputy director of Louisiana's Homeland Security Department, Colonel Jay Mayeaux, has stated that he asked the Red Cross to delay relief operations for 24 hours for logistical reasons, and by the time that was up the evacuations had already begun.[citation needed]

On September 14, after President Bush had accepted responsibility for all problems that occurred at the federal level, Governor Blanco accepted responsibility for all problems that occurred at the state level. Blanco stated, "At the state level, we must take a careful look at what went wrong and make sure it never happens again. The buck stops here, and as your governor, I take full responsibility." In 2006, a Congressional report later stated that the "National Response Plan did not adequately provide a way for federal assets to quickly supplement or, if necessary, supplant first responders."[9]

Aftermath and recovery[edit]

Blanco in Taipei on an official trade mission to Taiwan in 2006.

Governor Blanco continued to press President Bush and Congress for additional recovery funds for Louisiana, pointing out the disparity in assistance received by Louisiana compared to neighboring Mississippi, in spite of statements by members of the Louisiana State Republican Party that recommended quietly accepting what was offered and then possibly request more aid at a later date. Assisted by protests in the press, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, which referred to the treatment of Louisiana and New Orleans as "America's Shame,' in February 2006, Governor Blanco and the Louisiana Recovery Authority negotiated an additional $4.2 billion in aid for rebuilding housing in Louisiana.

Early in 2006, Blanco was inducted into the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.[10]

On June 19, 2006, Governor Blanco announced that she would send the National Guard to patrol the streets of New Orleans after five teenagers were killed, in an effort to combat a greatly increased rate of violent crime.

On June 19, 2006, Blanco signed into law a ban on most forms of abortion (unless the life of the mother was in danger or her health would be permanently damaged) once it passed the state legislature. Although she felt exclusions for rape or incest would have "been reasonable," she felt she should not veto based on those reasons. The bill would only go into effect if the United States Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade.

In August 2006, Blanco filed a lawsuit and formally objected to the federal Gulf of Mexico lease sale "to force the federal government to spend part of its oil and gas income from the Outer Continental Shelf to help shore up Louisiana's coastline".

In December 2006, Blanco called a special session of the Louisiana State Legislature which she intended to use to dispense $2.1 billion worth of tax cuts, teacher raises, road projects and other spending programs. Legislators allied with Blanco attempted to lift a spending cap imposed by the state constitution, but Republican lawmakers rejected the governor’s spending measure. The high-profile defeat further eroded Blanco’s political reputation.

By late 2006 and early 2007, Blanco was facing increasingly heated accusations of delays in administering the Road Home Program, a state-run program which Blanco and the Louisiana Recovery Authority had set up following Katrina in order to distribute federal aid money to Katrina victims for damage to their homes. By January 2007, fewer than 250 of an estimated 100,000 applicants had received payments from the program, and many of the payments were apparently based on assessments which grossly undervalued the cost of damage to homes.

Facing an upcoming re-election campaign with greatly reduced popularity, Blanco made repeated public criticisms of the administration of President Bush in January 2007. Noting that Bush neglected to mention Gulf Coast reconstruction in his 2007 State of the Union Address, Blanco called for a bipartisan Congressional investigation into the conduct of the Bush administration following Katrina, to determine whether partisan politics played a role in the slow response to the storm. This call followed comments by former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director Michael D. Brown, who claimed[citation needed] that the White House offer to federalize the National Guard in the days following the storm was part of a plan to upstage Blanco. Blanco has also publicly stated that Mississippi received preferential treatment because its governor, Haley Barbour, is Republican.

Blanco announced on March 20, 2007 that she would not seek re-election. On January 14, 2008, Bobby Jindal succeeded her as governor. He defeated several opponents, including Foster Campbell of Bossier Parish, a former state senator and a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission.

Electoral history[edit]

State Representative, 45th Representative District, 1987

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 24, 1987

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Kathleen Blanco Democratic 7,713 (60%) Re-elected
J Luke LeBlanc Democratic 5,037 (40%) Defeated
Public Service Commission, District 2, 1988

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 1, 1988

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Kathleen Blanco Democratic 44,450 (32%) Runoff
Kernan "Skip" Hand Republican 25,293 (18%) Runoff
George Ackel Democratic 23,383 (17%) Defeated
Edward "Bubby" Lyons Democratic 22,082 (16%) Defeated
Others n.a. 22,314 (17%) Defeated

Second Ballot, November 8, 1988

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Kathleen Blanco Democratic 161,270 (57%) Elected
Kernan "Skip" Hand Republican 120,392 (43%) Defeated
Public Service Commission, District 2, 1994

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 1, 1994

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Kathleen Blanco Democratic Unopposed Elected
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, 1995

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 21, 1995

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Kathleen Blanco Democratic 590,410 (44%) Runoff
Suzanne Mayfield Krieger Republican 211,520 (16%) Runoff
Chris John Democratic 206,915 (15%) Defeated
Others n.a. 342,910 (25%) Defeated

Second Ballot, November 18, 1995

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Kathleen Blanco Democratic 964,559 (65%) Elected
Suzanne Mayfield Krieger Republican 513,613 (35%) Defeated
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, 1999

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 23, 1999

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Kathleen Blanco Democratic 968,249 (80%) Elected
Kevin Joseph Duplantis Republican 121,296 (10%) Defeated
Others n.a. 117,467 (10%) Defeated
Governor of Louisiana, 2003

Threshold > 50%

First Ballot, October 4, 2003

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Bobby Jindal Republican 443,389 (33%) Runoff
Kathleen Blanco Democratic 250,136 (18%) Runoff
Richard Ieyoub Democratic 223,513 (16%) Defeated
Claude "Buddy" Leach Democratic 187,872 (14%) Defeated
Others n.a. 257,614 (19%) Defeated

Second Ballot, November 15, 2003

Candidate Affiliation Support Outcome
Kathleen Blanco Democratic 731,358 (52%) Elected
Bobby Jindal Republican 676,484 (48%) Defeated

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
J. Luke LeBlanc
Louisiana State Representative from District 45 (Lafayette Parish)
1984-1989
Succeeded by
Jerry Luke LeBlanc
Preceded by
Melinda Schwegmann
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
January 8, 1996 – January 12, 2004
Succeeded by
Mitch Landrieu
Preceded by
Murphy J. Foster, Jr.
Governor of Louisiana
January 12, 2004 – January 14, 2008
Succeeded by
Bobby Jindal