Gustav Threatens the Gulf Coast and the RNCSeptember 02, 2008
As I sat in the airport waiting for my connection to the Twin Cities, I do what any good lobbyist does — I checked my e-mail. And while I had been monitoring the increasingly disturbing news coming out of the Weather Channel, the e-mail I received confirmed it. All but barebones official convention proceedings were canceled for Monday, the first day of the 2008 Republican National Convention, because of the looming hurricane off America’s Gulf Coast. While news releases say the call was made by soon-to-be-minted Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), I am sure the fact that both President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney rightly opted not to attend and speak as planned on Monday night — a decision made earlier — had a bit to do with it as well. It may be McCain’s convention, but it’s still Bush’s party. All the major news organizations are also pulling their anchors out of St. Paul and sending them to the Gulf Coast to commence emergency coverage.
Hurricane Gustav is horrible news for the people of the Gulf Coast region. It is only a few years after New Orleans drowned in Hurricane Katrina, not to mention the additional devastation felt by the rest of the coast states affected by that and other hurricanes that year. To have another big storm bearing down on Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas so quickly seems beyond cruel — but then Mother Nature is not always known for her benevolence. The good news is the region is mobilized and mandatory evacuation orders are in place for cities in the direct path of the storm, including New Orleans, so if the worst does happen, local residents, officials, and the nation will hopefully be better able to cope with the disaster.
Meanwhile, in St. Paul, Republican officials are scrambling to react, well aware that the eyes of a nation are watching and remembering a Republican-led FEMA department that didn’t do so well last time. (Of course, the Democrats in charge in Louisiana at the time didn’t get such high marks either.) Other ancillary events to the convention — meetings, lectures, gatherings, parties — appear to still be on tap but will continue with an understandable shadow. The parties especially seem to be turning into charity events, where funds will be collected for disaster relief while convention goers continue to, well, convene. But all the events will be different; members of Congress who were scheduled to speak may not be in attendance, for one.
The Republican National Committee has said it will play it by ear regarding the rest of the week’s official schedule, but the party must do some basic things to ensure that their candidates appear on the ballot in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. That official business is the only sure thing for a convention whose official schedule and attendance have been thrown very much up in the air. I heard one official speaking on NPR Sunday morning, saying the convention may turn into an “American Idol Gives Back” kind of an event — a telethon to raise money for disaster relief should the worst come to pass. The RNC has already chartered a DC-9 to ferry delegates back to affected states and set up an “Affected States Command Center” and an “Affected States Task Force” to deal with issues from St. Paul to get the best information to folks as they receive it.
But the RNC and convention goers like me will cope; we’re still safe and dry. All we can do is hope and pray for the best for our families, friends, colleagues — indeed, even complete strangers — who have Gustav bearing down on them. To our friends in the Gulf Coast: take care of yourselves and, please, be safe.