Tuesday, May 22, 2007

A Surprise: Clinton Best Candidate Yet on Katrina Issues

Hillary Clinton is the only 2008 Democratic candidate for President I have not yet seen speak in person, but given her major speech on Katrina recovery, it is time I go ahead and write about her anyway. As much as I may dislike her campaign, she gets my first A on this issue.

I want to make it very clear that I absolutely will NOT vote for Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary. I admire her as a Senator, but for reasons I will not go into here (I want to focus on Katrina, not larger politics), I cannot support her primary bid. That said, she gets major props on New Orleans. A few of the candidates give decent answers on the subject when asked, but she is the first to make it into a major campaign speech. The plan posted on her website addresses specific problems and shows at least a cursory understanding of their root causes. She calls it a “mini-Marshall Plan.”

(This paragraph explains how I evaluate candidates. Analysis of Clinton's plan begins with the next paragraph.) When evaluating candidates on their Katrina recovery views, I ask several questions. Do they demonstrate an understanding of the cause of the problems (red tape)? Are they familiar with some of those specific problems (the Road Home program, ACOE accountability, environmental issues, etc.)? Do they have specific plans to address those problems? Do they actually address current rebuilding issues, or do they just criticize Bush’s initial response? Is the issue highlighted anywhere on the candidate’s website? Someone who demonstrates capability in all these areas gets an A. Someone who is fairly strong in all areas, or incredibly strong in all but one, gets a B. Someone who is weak across the board, or exceedingly strong in only one area and non-existent in the others, gets a C. Someone who shows they care but then changes the subject gets a D, and someone who doesn’t care or says it’s not a federal issue gets an F. Hillary Clinton gets the first A.

The central part of her plan is a “federal census” to determine and prioritize the many needs of the Gulf Coast. She addresses the Road Home housing program, local infrastructure, the lack of Army Corps of Engineers accountability, rising crime, a flagging education system in desperate need of staff, and inadequate regional health care. Like most candidates, she calls for elevating FEMA back to Cabinet-level status and for waiving required local and state matching funds (as was done after Hurricane Andrew and 9/11). She also says the federal-level rebuilding director should be moved from the Department of Homeland Security to the White House itself; wants to create a “Gulf Coast Corps” that would bring doctors, teachers, and thousands of skilled workers and laborers to the region; and urges that all new construction projects be environmentally-friendly. Furthermore, according to the Times Picayune, “Recognizing that the city cannot thrive without adequate flood protection, Clinton said that as president, she would request a ‘stem-to-stern’ review of all Army Corps of Engineers plans and demand the highest level of levee protection.”

Some important aspects of recovery are missing from her proposals – what about wetlands preservation, FEMA trailer issues, and a lack of communication between government levels? How will you heighten accountability at all levels? How are you going to ensure that allocated monies actually reach their intended target (what I consider the largest current problem)? Nevertheless, this is a campaign proposal, not a think tank policy paper, and it is as detailed as campaign proposals get.

Clinton has put also this issue front and center on her webpage. She is the only candidate to do so; even Katrina “champion” John Edwards doesn’t have details online. I had just given up on finding the issue on official campaign websites, so this is highly encouraging.

I hate to give my A on Katrina recovery to Hillary Clinton, but facts are facts, and this is the proposal I’ve been looking for. She has been criticized for a lack of policy substance on her website and in her campaign, so perhaps it is a surprise that the proposal came from her and not Biden or Richardson, and indeed, I do wish it had come from someone else, but at least it came. This raises the bar for all the other candidates, and I hope they will all rise to the challenge.

Here are the total rankings so far. They do not reflect the speeches each candidate recently made at a Baton Rouge forum, which I have yet to analyze, so it’s highly possible I’ll raise some of these grades in the next week or so. Dodd and Edwards have additional qualifiers, as explained below.

Candidates on NOLA:
Clinton: A
Biden: B+
Richardson (two posts): B-
Obama: C+
Edwards: C-/D+ (I need to read his initial 2005 proposals and see if any are still relevant; if so, I will raise his grade.)
Dodd: D- (This is based on my first conversation with him. I have yet to write about our second conversation, but it will raise his grade to a C+.)

Image Credits (both are HRC in New Orleans):
Image 1 by Matt Rose
Image 2

No comments: