Imagine for a moment two politicians — one Democrat, one Republican — standing side-by-side and speaking with one voice. These two leaders — one female, one male — are the outgoing and incoming governors of Louisiana. Unlike most political leaders today, they have the good sense to put aside their partisan differences and work together. And we citizens of the battered and beloved Big Easy are grateful for their leadership in the rebuilding of our home state.
A little more than two years ago, Hurricane Katrina left 80 percent of New Orleans under water when the levees failed. It destroyed communities across the entire Mississippi Gulf Coast and left hundreds of thousands of citizens homeless. Many are still living in Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) trailers, boarding with relatives in far-away states or existing in limbo while they try to save enough money to come back home and rebuild.
Katrina, along with Hurricane Rita (which hit the state less than a month later), devastated Louisiana's southwestern coastline, reflooding parts of New Orleans and wiping away communities in Louisiana and Texas. The worst natural disaster in American history left us facing the greatest American rebuilding initiative since the Reconstruction.
Louisiana officials and others who represent the Gulf Coast states have been at the mercy of the federal taxpayers, the American people, to assist us in rebuilding both our state and the lives of millions of its displaced citizens. With the holidays once again approaching, those citizens now have something to be thankful for: new federal aid to help complete the road back home.
Louisiana's current and incoming governors, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and Bobby Jindal, traveled to Capitol Hill recently — not to beg for a handout but to give thanks for the hand up Congress extended Louisiana this month.
First, Congress successfully voted to override President Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which included nearly $7 billion in critical hurricane and flood protection projects for Louisiana. Later, the House and Senate approved a Defense Appropriations bill, which included $3 billion, secured by Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, D-La., to fund rebuilding grants for Louisiana homeowners.
Due to these and other earlier investments Congress made in our state's future, tens of thousands of homes and affordable rental units are being rebuilt. Children are returning to better schools. Hospitals and clinics, including the V.A. Hospital, are being rebuilt. Small businesses are recovering. Hundreds of miles of wetlands, levees and floodwalls are being repaired and restored. Our seafood industry, which supports more than 19,000 commercial fishing jobs and generates $2.9 billion a year by providing North America with 30 percent of its seafood, is being revived. The Port of New Orleans, which moves the largest tonnage of America's cargo every year, including more than half of the nation's grain exports, has been restored.
Louisiana's energy production, second in the nation in natural gas and fourth in crude oil, is back on track, provides the U.S. Treasury $7.5 billion a year in royalties. And tourists, so vital to our state's economy, are returning to celebrate our recovery as well as our world-renowned cuisine, music and hospitality. Laissez les bon temps roulez! (Let the good times roll!)
While the past two years have been full of challenges and worries about having a place to call home, hope and optimism for a better day are slowly returning to Louisiana, and we give our thanks to Congress, the Bush administration, and, most especially, our fellow Americans. I, for one, am sincerely grateful to every single taxpayer. My entire family joins all Louisianans in giving thanks to you. With your generous support and insistent cry out to our leaders to help the people still suffering from the affects of two powerful hurricanes, we are on the road back home.
As Louisianans, we thank you for acknowledging the tremendous importance of our state's recovery to the financial interest of the country. As Americans, we thank you for helping ensure that unfinished rebuilding and neglected homes will not become the legacy of this American tragedy.
It's not often political leaders stand together, let alone speak with one voice. It's not often that they put aside their partisan, parochial concerns to help solve problems. And it's certainly not often that we can believe in each other enough to say thanks. So to express their gratitude, state officials are encouraging leaders and citizens from around the country to sign a letter of thanks that will be sent to President Bush and all the members of Congress for their ongoing commitment to Louisiana and the Gulf Coast's recovery.
I hope you will join us in visiting lra.louisiana.gov and clicking on "Louisiana Gives Thanks" to show gratitude to elected leaders who made this one of our best Thanksgiving holidays ever. If you do, perhaps Congress and the president will be inspired to return to Washington after the celebration of Thanksgiving with a renewed sense to help others in dire need.
Donna Brazile is a political commentator on CNN, ABC and NPR, contributing columnist to Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, and former campaign manager for Al Gore.