This is a NOLA/Gulf Coast Blogathon diary. You got a problem with that?
This year, despite a once-in-a-generation candidate and an opposition in disarray, Democrats are going to have a fight to take the White House. Some swing states like Pennsylvania and Ohio are going to be tough slogs with social conservatives (not to mention, shall we say, ethnic issues). Other states, once considered solidly Republican, are going to surprise pundits by proving open to the Democratic message.
I'd like to show you, and the Obama campaign, how to make Louisiana one of them.
Back in 2004 A.D. (ante diluvium), my brother privatewl, who was then working for the Howard Dean presidential campaign, asked me to put together a couple of memos on agricultural and land use policy. Among them was a summary of the problem of coastal erosion in Louisiana. At the time, the nation at large was just beginning to grasp the scope of the challenge coastal erosion poses to the state and the country, largely thanks to Mike Tidwell and his book Bayou Farewell.
Since then, the importance of healthy wetlands and barrier islands to hurricane protection for cities, fisheries and energy infrastructure has been driven home in a most dramatic way.
The campaign called back with a pragmatic political request: tell us why the candidate should care about this. So I wrote a second memo, detailing the growing awareness of the importance of wetland restoration throughout the state, not just in the coastal South. Championing the cause of stopping coastal erosion and restoring our wetlands, I argued, is the key to unlocking the states nine, red electors.
The truly wonky can read both of those original memos here (.doc).
To understand how the issue of coastal erosion can restore a once blue Bayou State, one has to know something of regional nature of Louisiana politics. Simply put, Gaulle nouvelle is divided in three parts.
Voters in the largely Protestant, conservative North are not unaware of the problem of the coast. Though they often vote based on classic social-conservative issues such as abortion and homosexuality, they know the economic importance of New Orleans and the oil patch. They may complain of how the Legislature in Baton Rouge spends the state's revenues, but even the most strident among them knows where the bulk of those revenues come from: the South.
Those of us in Katrinaland need no convincing of the importance of coastal restoration. We were well aware of the problem before It came to visit. The events of August 2005 served to underline the issue with a long, black line that stretched across our city.
I guarantee that, since August 29, 2005, no one in New Orleans has claimed that wetland restoration is a minor issue.
But neither New Orleans nor the North really determine the way Louisiana votes in statewide elections. They essentially cancel one another out. The real key to the state's nine electoral votes is Cajun Country.
This stretch of prairie and swamp west of New Orleans, the River Parishes, is our equivalent to a swing state. Voters here, while more conservative than the average New Orleanian, are eminently practical people, and vote their self-interest.
In 1992 and 1996, River Parishes voters carried the state for Bill Clinton, believing he could best bring new economic opportunities to the area. And they were right. In 2000 and 2004, they delivered the state to George W. Bush, in the hopes that a self-proclaimed Texas oil man could help revive the oil patch. They were right again (though the consequences of that renaissance have hurt us all).
No one knows better the dire impact of coastal erosion than the Cajuns, who watch yearly as their land, their history and their livelihood is swallowed by the invading Gulf. While their largely Catholic faith may put abortion high on their list of priorities and while, as sustenance hunters and fishermen, they are susceptible to 2nd Amendment arguments, the issue of coastal restoration is, without hyperbole, a matter of life and death for these voters.
The presidential candidate that understands the importance of restoring Louisiana's coast and makes a firm, unequivocal commitment to tackling the job, will win the voters in Cajun Country and New Orleans, taking the nine state Electors.
In 2004, Gov. Dean never got the chance to make this commitment to the people of Louisiana and reap their loyalty. This year, Barack Obama can. If he will only listen.
The cost of implementing the original Breaux/Coast 2050 plan, the centerpiece of which entails diverting one-third of the Mississippi's flow at Donaldsonville and sending the levee-imprisoned silt into the marshes off Terrebone and Lafourche Parishes, has gone up since it was first proposed in 1999. Originally estimated at $14-15 billion, the plan gets more expensive every year we wait. Implementing Coast 2050 today would probably cost upwards of $20 billion.
But the cost of continuing to ignore the problem is far greater. Recreating the energy infrastructure at Port Fourchon alone would run over $50 billion. No one has even offered an estimate on such items as relocating the populations of cities like Houma and Thibodeaux. Adding it all up, ignoring coastal erosion in Louisiana could even give the Iraq misadventure a run for Costliest Mistake America Ever Made.
So, Sen. Obama, how about it? Will you, as president, commit to rebuilding the coast of Louisiana, saving the backbone of America's oil and gas industry and her most vital port, not to mention her most unique, culturally-rich city?
We haven't got much to offer in return. Just nine electoral votes. . .
Your Blogathon Pals:
NOLA/GULF BLOGATHON--ALL TIMES PACIFIC
Thurs., May 22
9AM Mike Stagg
11AM Louisiana 1976
5PM Patriot Daily
Fri., May 23
9AM Mike Stagg
11AM Louisiana 1976
3PM Crashing Vor
5PM pico? Izzat Chew?