Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, whose popularity plummeted after two hurricanes devastated Louisiana during her term, announced Tuesday that she will not seek re-election.
The decision will let her get what she called important initiatives through an upcoming legislative session without having to worry about political considerations, she said.
“I am doing this so we can work without interference from election year politics,” Blanco said.
She had already broken the news in phone calls to legislative leaders, a meeting with her Cabinet secretaries and in a letter to her staff.
Blanco, a Democrat from the state’s Cajun country, had already drawn a half-dozen challengers for this fall’s election — including popular Republican U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal. She defeated him in 2003 with 52 percent of the vote to become Louisiana’s first female governor.
Former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, a popular Democrat, has said he will decide soon whether to enter the race.
She scheduled a television appearance for 7 p.m. ET, in which she was expected to make the announcement.
Blanco was seen as so politically weakened by hurricanes Katrina and Rita that Democratic powerbrokers questioned behind the scenes whether she was re-electable or whether she should step aside to give another Democratic candidate a better chance at the post.
Blanco, 64, had been widely criticized not only for her immediate response to the storms, but also for a bureaucracy-bogged recovery effort.
That effort included the “Road Home” program, designed to funnel billions in federal dollars to pay hurricane-struck homeowners for repairs or buyouts. More than 115,000 people whose homes were damaged in 2005 by the hurricanes have applied for the aid. As of this week, about 3,000 have received grants.
Criticized for lax Katrina response
After Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, Blanco was criticized for not requiring an evacuation of the city earlier and not sending in buses sooner to take stranded residents from the city’s shelters. Criticism also fell on President Bush and Mayor Ray Nagin for a government response seen as inadequate at all levels.
Blanco, a former high school business education teacher, started in politics as a consultant on redistricting issues. She was elected as a state representative in 1984 and later moved on to the state’s utility regulatory body, the Louisiana Public Service Commission, and served as lieutenant governor.
The governor’s decision makes her a lame duck six weeks before lawmakers return to the state Capitol for their regular legislative session. Only days ago, she proposed a record $29.2 billion state budget for next year.
Blanco, who has blamed national Republicans for shortchanging the state on aid and of playing politics in the storms’ aftermath, took a swipe in her brief Tuesday night speech at opponents who “attempted to exploit those tragedies for partisan gain.” But she focused mostly on the April 30 legislative session and her hopes for the remaining nine months of her term.
Jindal, wishing Blanco and her family well, said: “This is the governor’s day, not mine. Campaigning can wait.”