Sunday, September 11, 2005

Fortenberry Holds His Tongue

by Kyle Michaelis
Friday's Lincoln Journal-Star ran an article I'd called for last week with Louisiana native Jeff Fortenberry's response to the devastation of New Orleans and much of the Mississippi Delta.

Most notable in the article is the 1st Congressional District Representative's careful refrain from assigning any blame for the incompetent, blundering response to this deadly catastrophe.

See for yourself:
Nebraska Rep. Jeff Fortenberry was born in Baton Rouge, grew up there, went to college there, worked there and is keeping a close eye on the beleaguered city where his mother still lives.

“She’s fine,” Fortenberry said.

And so is Baton Rouge compared to New Orleans. One is stressed by the tide of Katrina’s refugees, the other lies devastated in a ghastly lake of polluted water.

“Imagine Omaha moving to Lincoln overnight,” Fortenberry said in a telephone interview from Washington this week. That’s what happened in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s state capital and home of Louisiana State University, Fortenberry’s alma mater.

“There’s no house for sale, no apartment to rent, no hotel room available,” he said.

While the strain on Baton Rouge is intense, the tragedy is 80 miles to the southeast in New Orleans.

“A unique city of tremendous historical and cultural proportions,” Fortenberry said. “There are very few historic cities, and it is one.”

New Orleans needs to be rebuilt, using “innovative, modern techniques” that provide improved hurricane and flood protection while recognizing some areas of the city are unsustainable, Fortenberry said....

Fortenberry, a Republican, said he’s not inclined to “point fingers of blame” for what went wrong in terms of preparation and response as the hurricane gathered, took direct aim at the Gulf states and swept ashore.

Instead, he said, he’s told House Speaker Dennis Hastert he’d be interested in serving on a select committee the Speaker plans to form to assess what happened.

“We need to make a real commitment to address the dimension of human suffering,” Fortenberry said. “And we need a proper evaluation outside the realm of emotion and finger-pointing so we can be better prepared for the future.”

Fortenberry said there were “some tense moments” when President Bush’s cabinet officers met this week with members of the House to discuss what happens next.

When it came Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman’s turn, Fortenberry said, “I waited and waited and waited for him to give some estimate or judgment about (the continuing) impact on gas prices.”

Understandably, the congressman said, Bodman would not venture an immediate answer, but he promised to provide Fortenberry with an economic analysis of the situation.

Glad to see Fortenberry owning up to his Louisiana roots, though I wonder what good he can possibly serve on this supposed House Committee assessing this historic event when he's not even willing to question or call-out the Bush administration on it's completely failed response. The people whose lives have been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina deserve a champion, not another Republican yes-man.

It's appalling that Fortenberry didn't take this chance to directly challenge Speaker Hastert's recent statements suggesting "we ought to take a second look" at rebuilding New Orleans. Nor did he challenge the votes of 11 of his fellow Republicans in the House, including neighboring Iowa's abominable Steve King, for opposing federal aid to Katrina's victims despite their support of countless billions to far-fetched military efforts across the globe.

Fortenberry's silence on these fronts and so many others is an unforgiveable betrayal of his native state and the good citizens of his adopted home making perfectly clear his subservience to the Republican Party before all else. How sad to see a man forsake his humanity and integrity for the sake of partisan unity that now has cost in human lives.

Louisiana and this entire nation are screaming out for leaders of conscience to speak-out and fight on their behalf rather than serving the letter by their name on a ballot. Fortenberry proves here he is nowhere near such a man or such a leader.


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