Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (born December 15, 1942) is a former Democratic Governor of Louisiana, having served from January 2004 until January 2008. She was the first woman to hold the office of governor of Louisiana.
Less than two years into her term as governor, Hurricane Katrina, one of the most devastating hurricanes ever to make landfall in the United States, struck New Orleans and Louisiana. Blanco was criticized for the inadequate government response to the disaster, although, 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.
Blanco announced in March 2007 that she would not seek reelection later that year, saying that she would instead "focus [her] time and [her] energy for the [remainder of her term] on the people's work, not on politics."
Prior to her election as governor, she served a four-year term as a State Representative in the Louisiana Legislature from 1984 to 1988, representing part of the Lafayette area. She was then elected to a six-year term as Public Service Commissioner in 1988 and was re-elected in 1994. From 1996 to 2004, she served two four-year terms as Lieutenant Governor. In her first election as lieutenant governor, one of her Democratic rivals, Buddy Caldwell, a district attorney in northeastern Louisiana, dropped out of the race. He emerged in 2007 as the Democratic choice for state attorney general, as Blanco was retiring from state politics.
Before Katrina, a major focus of Governor Blanco's time in office was the future of the American football team the New Orleans Saints, one of two major sports franchises in the state of Louisiana. Blanco's position on the Saints was highly inconsistent at one time or another, Governor Blanco 1) proposed the construction of a new stadium for the team, 2) proposed to renovate the Louisiana Superdome, and 3) implied that the state cannot afford to retain the team. This led to a lengthy impasse between Governor Blanco and Saints' owner Tom Benson. In the spring of 2005, Benson halted negotiations between the team and the State until after the 2005 NFL season was over.
Blanco had a difficult working relation with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Despite having joined the Democratic Party of the United States in 2001, Nagin endorsed Republican Party of the United States/Republican candidate Bobby Jindal (rather than Blanco) for Governor of Louisiana/governor in Louisiana gubernatorial election, 2003. The two politicians were subsequently at odds, especially following Hurricane Katrina when both Blanco and Nagin exchanged blame for the inadequate governmental response.
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.
On September 1, 2005, Governor Blanco authorized United States National Guard troops to "shoot and kill" rioters and looters, which 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. The attitude toward looters, and the perception that police and national guard resources were diverted to deal with looters, were sources of controversy and criticism. Governor Blanco was also criticized for allegedly having only a minor subset of her available National Guard troops standing by on ready , and for not being able to provide relief supplies and standby medical or other first responder personnel to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin for the victims of the hurricane . A Newsday article by Jim Pinkerton, for example, states "The Louisiana Guard has about 11,000 members, of whom 3,000 are in Iraq War . And yet, of the remaining 8,000 in the Pelican State , fewer than half were on duty the day Katrina struck . Louisiana did indeed have only 3,500 ready out of 6,500 national guards available according to a different article in the Chicago Tribune''; in comparison, the state of Mississippi had 850 guards on duty, and Alabama had 350 as of August 30.
In addition, Governor Blanco had accepted an offer of National Guard reinforcements from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Although this agreement was made on August 28, the day before Katrina struck, the paperwork required to deploy troops did not arrive from the federal government until September 1 . The specific cause of the delay is unclear. An article in the Washington Post cites three state and federal officials as stating collectively that "Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until August 31." It also quotes one as saying erroneously that as of September 3, Governor Blanco had not declared a state of emergency in Louisiana.
Controversy has continued to circle the issue of the National Guard . According to an article in Newsweek , President Bush and Governor Blanco met on Air Force One on Friday, September 2, 2005 while it sat on the tarmac at the New Orleans airport. Echoing requests submitted by President Bush to Governor Blanco in a memo prior to the meeting, Mayor Nagin suggested federalizing the National Guard to improve the command structure. According to both Sen. David Vitter, a Republican, and Mayor Ray Nagin, the Democratic Mayor of New Orleans, Bush turned to Governor Blanco and said, "Well, what do you think of that, Governor?" Blanco told Bush, "I’d rather talk to you about that privately." To which Nagin responded, "Well, why don’t you do that now?". Immediately following that private meeting, according to a September 7, 2005 Washington Times article , Mayor Nagin said that "He (Bush) called [Nagin] in that office, and he said, 'Mr. Mayor, I offered two options to the governor.' I was ready to move. The governor said she needed 24 hours to make a decision."
Governor Blanco subsequently rejected the proposal. President Bush continued to press the offer so Governor Blanco rejected it in writing on September 6, 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 has the power to take command of National Guard brigades under the Insurrection Act without the agreement of a state Governor, but no President has done this since Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s and President Bush has so far also declined to do so. However, Governor Blanco and Major General Bennett Landreneau, commander of Louisiana's National Guard, have co-operated closely with Lieutenant General Russel L. Honoré, who was then commanding military operations under Joint Task Force Katrina.
CNN and Fox News reported the Louisiana Homeland Security Department (which operates under the authority of Governor Blanco) refused to allow the American Red Cross to enter the city of New Orleans. , The American Red Cross confirms that the organization had not been allowed to enter 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.
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."
On June 19, 2006, Governor Blanco announced that she would send the National Guard to patrol New Orleans' streets after five teenagers were killed, in an effort to combat a greatly increased rate of violent crime. As of March 2007, the National Guard is still stationed in New Orleans.
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 "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 and incompetence in administering the Road Home Program, a state-run program which Blanco 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 FEMA director Michael D. Brown, who claimed 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 repeated accusations that Mississippi received preferential treatment because its governor, Haley Barbour, is Republican.
Threshold > 50%
First Ballot, October 24, 1987
|Kathleen Blanco||Democratic||7,713 (60%)||Elected|
|J Luke LeBlanc||Democratic||5,037 (40%)||Defeated|
Public Service Commission, District 2, 1988
Threshold > 50%
First Ballot, October 1, 1988
|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|
Second Ballot, November 8, 1988
|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
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, 1995
Threshold > 50%
First Ballot, October 21, 1995
|Kathleen Blanco||Democratic||590,410 (44%)||Runoff|
|Suzanne Krieger||Republican||211,520 (16%)||Runoff|
|Chris John||Democratic||206,915 (15%)||Defeated|
Second Ballot, November 18, 1995
|Kathleen Blanco||Democratic||964,559 (65%)||Elected|
|Suzanne Krieger||Republican||513,613 (35%)||Defeated|
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, 1999
Threshold > 50%
First Ballot, October 23, 1999
|Kathleen Blanco||Democratic||968,249 (80%)||Elected|
|Kevin Joseph Duplantis||Republican||121,296 (10%)||Defeated|
Governor of Louisiana, 2003
Threshold > 50%
First Ballot, October 4, 2003
|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|
Second Ballot, November 15, 2003
|Kathleen Blanco||Democratic||731,358 (52%)||Elected|
|Bobby Jindal||Republican||676,484 (48%)||Defeated|