This year, Mardi Gras coincides with “Super Tuesday,” the day when the greatest number of states hold primary elections. This chance concurrence is a good opportunity to reflect on how the discussion about Gulf Coast rebuilding has unfolded in the presidental race so far–oh wait, that’s right: it hasn’t. Instead, Gulf Coast recovery has been conspicuously absent in campaign discussions and debates, in spite of the enormous need still present in the Gulf. For example, rent costs in the region have jumped 70%, less than 28% of the region’s former 82,000 rental units are on track to be rebuilt, and homelessness is escalating.
Last week several groups, including the Katrina Information Network, worked to bump a question about Gulf Coast rebuilding up in an online vote which determined the questions asked at California’s presidential debates. In spite of pushing the question to the number 1 position for the Democratic debate and number 3 for the Republican event, not a single question about hurricane recovery was asked during the debates. Writers at the Times Picayune speculate that the voted-upon question was omitted because it was too “wonkish”—for those of you living outside DC, that means too policy-related and esoteric. Similarly, in President Bush’s State of the Union address last week, Gulf Coast rebuilding was glossed over with three sentences of rosy words.
We owe it to those in the Gulf to make rebuilding a bigger topic during the remainder of the campaign season. Rather than deploring the Bush administration’s failures in handling the disaster, candidates should be acknowledging Congress’s continued failure to fix the situation, and out-lining the steps that they will take for Gulf Coast recovery during their presidency. Debate moderaters and journalists should be pushing candidates to explain their strategies to rebuild.
Part of what we can do in the election season is educate the candidates about what issues are important to us and what issues we want them to be addressing. It’s up to us to be accountable to Gulf Coast communities and keep hammering away until this issue gets addressed.
If a candidate visits your town, ask him or her a non-wonky question about their plans for how to rebuild the Gulf in a way that serves the needs of renters and low-income families. If you happen to know a journalist–or, better yet, to be a journalist–in the position of interviewing a canidate, ask them to question the candidate about rebuilding. If you take part in an online or telephone survey about what issues matter to you this campaign season, check the box for Gulf Coast recovery–and if there isn’t a box, write it in, or ask the survey-maker why it’s missing. Ask your friends if they’ve noticed the campaigns’ silence around rebuilding the Gulf Coast.
It is up to us to show the candidates that we think Gulf Coast recovery is important; otherwise, it will continue to be a non-issue during the campaigns, lessening the likelihood that positive change will occur during the next administration. So let’s make a commitment to challenge our candidates and those who control the media to make rebuilding part of the conversation! Happy Mardi Gras, all.