Haley Barbour discusses how one State dealt with Hurricane Katrina.
This event was part of the Hoover Institution's Spring Retreat 2007.
Governor Haley Barbour
Haley Barbour was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi. He earned a law degree from the University of Mississippi Law School in 1973. He advised President Ronald Reagan as Director of the White House Office of Political Affairs, and served two terms as Chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Prior to his election as governor, he headed Barbour Griffith and Rogers, one of the nation's top lobbying firms. In November 2003, Barbour was elected Mississippi's governor in the largest voter turnout in a gubernatorial election in state history.
Governor Barbour received his Law degree from Ole Miss in 1973. He later founded andserved as Chair and CEO of Barbour Griffith and Rogers which Fortune magazine rankedthe nation's top lobbying firm. From 1993 to 1997, he served two terms as Chairman ofthe Republican National Committee and for two years during the Reagan Administrationhe was Director of the White House Office of Political Affairs. Governor Barbour's topicthis morning is, how one state dealt with hurricane Katrina? So please join me in giving awarm welcome to the honorable Haley Barbour.John, thank you. Thank you very much; I suspect with this accent this really is a changeof pace. When Howard Leech invited me out he reminded me of, when I was chairman ofthe Republican National Committee he was my national finance chairman, he wouldn'tlet me come out here then without an interpreter, so I am very I am honored actuallyto be here today and to visit with you a little bit about our state and the greatest naturaldisaster in American history.As John mentioned, I was elected Governor in 2003. I had spent a great deal of my careerin Washington DC though I always lived in Mississippi and really decided to run forGovernor because I thought our state was going in the wrong direction and there weresome very straight forward issues in the 2003 campaign, I was running against theincumbent democratic governor, we were just three years in a row the worst state in thecountry for law suit abuse. We had had a net loss of 38300 jobs according to the Bureauof Labor Statistics of the United States form of labor. And our state was in the worstfinancial crisis in its history, we had a $720 million budget shortfall. Now any where elsein the world that would be called a deficit, but in Mississippi it's unconstitutional to havea deficit. So we just spent $720 million more that year than we took in and didn't call it adeficit. When you consider that the general fund revenue that year was only $3.6 billionwe were 20 percent under water and robbing Peter to pay Paul with both hands.So I ran for Governor to look at those issues, ran my campaign on those issues, set anagenda after I was elected on those issues and I am pleased to say the first year I was agovernor, despite the fact that Democrats had a majority in both the senate and the house,we passed what the Wall Street Journal called the most comprehensive Tort Reform Billthat any state had passed. And it worked, we had had a healthcare crisis in our statebecause of lawsuit abuse, the number of medical liability cases filed against Mississippi'sdoctors dropped by 90 percent in one year. So it has been successful. It has been good forour business community too. Last year, my second budget year that ended June of 30th oflast year, we had a $70 million surplus. And we did it without raising anybody's taxes.We did it by getting control with spending, that last fiscal year the state spent ofMississippi went up one percent. Not one percent above the baseline, not one percentabove the it actually went up one percent. I wish some of the times when I had been inthe government in Washington we could have spending that went up one percent. But theother thing we did, we didn't shortchange our priority when we got controlled spending.This fall my fourth budget, we would have increased K-12 spending by $530 millionover what it was when I came at office, the largest increase in state's history, and ouruniversities will receive 32 percent more and our community colleges 52 percent more.All while balancing the budget without rising by its taxes. But we funded our priority,saved money elsewhere and most importantly our economy grew. We will have recordemployment in Mississippi this year and according to the Department of Commerce,personal income in Mississippi in the last three years went up somewhere between 16 to17 percent, better than five percent year-over-year average. And that has been a hugeinfusion of revenue into the treasury without raising taxes. Revenue is going to be up 39percent in my first four years, spending only up 28 percent.So I can tell you, come the summer of '05 I was feeling pretty good about what we havedone and frankly it was thinking I probably wouldn't run for re-election because we hadessentially addressed the problems that I had run on. But the problem I hadn't run on wasKatrina. We got hit by the worst natural disaster in American history and we bore thebrunt of it. We people who live on the Gulf States understand hurricanes but for thoseof you who were not here when the hurricane comes out of the gulf going south to norththe worst of the storm is in the north east quadrant. And this storm Katrina, the eye ofwhich was 32 miles across, Camille which came ashore in 1969 with the 195 mile hourwinds and until of 2005 Camille was what we thought was the gold standard forhurricanes, Camille's eye was 10 miles across. That of Katrina was 32 miles across. Andit came right up the Pearl River which is the boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana.I will never forget Tuesday morning after the storm on Monday, flying over the coast in ahelicopter. And it looked as if the hand of god had just wiped away, that so some placesfor blocks, some places for miles. The weather service tells us that Katrina had thebiggest storm surge ever reported in the history of meteorology. It waved on Mississippi,the first little town, east of where the storm came in, the storm surge of 38 feet deep whenyou include the waves that were on top. There was not a habitable structure left inWaveland after the storm.So when I look back and hear all the talk about response, of what should have happenedand who was at fault, let me just tell you that the people who think there could have beena perfect response by the federal government or anybody else don't know what they aretalking about. The utter obliteration in my state was truly indescribable. You couldn'tcapture it with it a TV shot or a photograph of the news but you just literally had to bethere. We lost 70,000 units of housing, destroyed or uninhabitable. 23 percent of all thehousing in Mississippi, the whole state which is nearly 400 miles long, 23 percent of allthe housing units in Mississippi were damaged by Katrina, we had hurricane force winds240 miles in on and in fact about 30 percent of the fatalities weren't in the coast counties,they were inland. So this was a statewide disaster of just unbelievable magnitude. And lotgets written about the first few days.Let me just say on the Mississippi Gulf Coast all of our infrastructure was destroyed.Water, sewer, electricity, roads, the debris that was removed after Katrina was 45 millioncubic yards, which is the most debris that has ever been picked up after a hurricane inhistory. The second largest was Andrew in 1992 that went through Florida and left 23million. So we had essentially twice as much and so many people when they would godown to the coast including people that had grown up there, lived there all their lives,get lost. The debris was waist deep, head deep, 20 feet deep in some areas. We thoughtwe had a very good disaster recovery plan. We worked on it hard, updated every year, wecouldn't implement it, that the head of my national guard might as well have been a civilgeneral, because he couldn't, you know, give an order, getting the information other thanface to face for several days because all of the cell phone towers were down.You learn some interesting things, electricity when you don't have electricity, you don'thave sewer because the lift stations run on electricity, you don't have water because thepumps run on electricity. You could have gasoline at the service station and you can't getgas because you got to have electricity for the pump to pull the gas up out of the ground. Idon't think we have ever faced a time you know, in our country's history where such alarge part of the country had everything destroyed.Of course New Orleans' disaster is different from our same same storm but where webore the brunt of a classic but incredibly powerful hurricane New Orleans actually had arise in water flood. They were on the backside of the hurricane and John Breaux used tobe the Senator from Louisiana called my attention one day of a photograph in TimeMagazine. And it showed one several pages of pictures, one set of pictures were slabson the Mississippi Gulf Coast where houses had been. And you could just see concreteslabs for not only miles across but deep. The other was the picture of New Orleans; it wastaken from a helicopter, water everywhere except all the houses have their roofs stillintact. They hadn't had a shingle to come off. They had a different kind of disaster, aterrible disaster, I don't want to minimize what happened to them but it was very different.For us we had total obliteration that happened in a few hours. So what do we do, I meanif we couldn't implement our plan well. I can tell you most of you all are businesspeople, if you have a good plan and even if you can't implement it gets you a long waydown the road for knowing what's important and making you more able to adapt. And wedid, we adapted in some some pretty great ways. And I want to say while the FederalGovernment has been roundly criticized and the Federal Government sure did a lot ofthings wrong we did a lot of things wrong too, but we never lost unity of government.The local governments held up even though they were obliterated.The best example I am able to give you that, I mention Waveland Waveland is a littletown about six or seven thousand it's the westernmost town on the Missisippi Gulf Coast.And as I say utterly destroyed. Not a habitable stretch. The plan for Waveland was thePolice Department, 26 officers, supposed to ride out the storm in the police station andthen after the storm passed over to go out for search and rescue and to security and thatsort of stuff. Nobody had the idea that the storm surge would go over the top of the policestation. And all 26 of them had to escape from there. Several of them spent six hours in atree a block away. Holding on to each other, its remarkable actually how many peoplerode out the storm up in a tree. But the Waveland Police Department some of them werewashed inland quite a distance. At nine o clock on the night of the storm all 26 membersof the Waveland Police Department were on duty. There weren't a plan but they knewwhat they were supposed to do. And that story you can go all across the coast of justextraordinary acts of courage and selflessness. By local first responders, by federalresponders like the coast guard the coast guard station at Mobile has a big Helicopterunit. They flew over the Missisippi Gulf Coast Monday night, the storm came in Mondaymorning, and it was pitch black darkness. I mean it was there was no electricity and soit was just total darkness. Yet these kids, these coasties who were of my children's ageand younger would hang off the helicopters on roads or lands, going through the air notknowing whether they might hit a telephone pole, whether they might hit whatever.They rescued 1,700 people. They took 1,700 people out by hoist on these helicopters.How could we complain about a Federal Government who does that? We scrambled thewhole town and things went wrong over and over, but we adapted. And I would suggestto you that's the most critical thing for a state or a city that's hit with an overwhelmingdisaster, no matter of what kind. Have a plan, have your people understand what the planis supposed to achieve and then don't expect everything to go like it's planned. Adapt, beflexible, be smart, most of all try hard and that's what our people did. The WavelandPolice Department is only the best example of what was happening over and over andover. I knew within a day that the Mississippi Gulf Coast was going to recover. And Iknew in a day, we are going to build it back bigger and better than ever. Because betweenmy wife and I and others spending their time down there it was very clear that the peopleon the coast were trying to get back home. They were committed to their communities.Our people didn't mope or wan, Mississippians were not into victimhood so that we weren'tlooking for anybody to blame. Our people the very first day just hitched up theirbritches and went to work. And they went to work helping themselves and helping their families.A lot of people from Mississippi complained that the national news media didn't coverMississippi very much. And I told it was because news media didn't like it. It coveredairplanes that land safely. They want to find somebody who is out blaming andcomplaining and we weren't blaming and complaining. We were rebuilding. By the endof the year 87 percent of our school children were back in school on the coast. Everyschool every public school in Mississippi was back open before any public school inNew Orleans. All but one of our public schools districts was open in October, most ofthem six weeks after the storm. Not were they had been because many of these schoolswere totally destroyed. In fact the only school district that didn't open in October openedon November the sixth. And it was their because of portable classrooms were latearriving. You know, we figured from the beginning if you want to rebuild yourcommunity there are three things that has to happen fast.People have to have place to stay; kids have to have schools to go to and you have to havejobs. Although it was not pretty we had 39,000 FEMA trailers with families living inthem by the end of the year. That was critical to rebuilding and very interestingly 82percent of those trailers were sitting on the lot where the person's home had been. Theywere in big group sites or commercial sites, the usual people who wanted to get home andrebuild their houses they want to rebuild their communities. We have a we have had alabor shortage on the coast since October of the year of the year of the storm. Our bigour big business like Northrop Grumman, Chevron, DuPont, Stennis Space Center whichis a very large Federal reserve run by NASA, our military bases, all were back going byOctober or early November. The first thing to recovering is to get people home. TheCensus Bureau said last summer, so less than a year after the storm that the population ofthe bottom six counties of Missisippi was 92 percent of what it was before the storm. Onthe same time they said New Orleans was about 39 percent. But it's critical to get people come home.And the Federal Government I have to say has been a tremendous partner since a fewweeks after the storm they had some very tough logistical problems that like I said sodo we, but starting later in the fall particularly with resources. Missisippi has receivedsomething over $25 billion of Federal assistance. Some of that is to is for the Navy torebuild shipyards, some of them has to rebuild Keesler Air force base, Stennis the NASAfacility, but a lot of it has gone into rebuilding our state's infrastructure and to help thehomeowners who lost their homes but whose insurance would not cover it because stormsurge in insurance law is considered a flood. And these people had not bought floodinsurance, they had homeowners insurance. They had not bought flood insurance becausethe Federal government told them they didn't live in the flood plain. Obviously when youhave an unprecedented storm like this with a storm surge that was 38 feet at Wavelandbut it was still 20 feet deep at Pascagoula 75 miles away from the eye of the storm.Thousands of people lost their homes, who enquired about flood insurance, but were toldyou don't need it. You are outside the flood zone outside the Federal government'sflood zone. They have made available to us $4 billion to help those people to rebuild theirhomes and that program is going very well. We have had about 13,000 families that havereceived grants under these circumstances outside the flood plain, had homeownersinsurance but didn't have flood insurance.The Federal Government helped us in rebuilding our infrastructure as I said and theprivate sector has been fabulous, the out poring of corporate foundation philanthropy isjust incredible and we are very grateful. I guess the biggest thing is the number ofvolunteers, our state office of volunteerism could had registered names and addressesfor 360,000 volunteers who came to Mississippi within the first twelve months after thestorm. Mostly church groups, but you know some secular groups as well and they keepcoming. They, we had more than 20,000 people each week in March because of theschool holidays somewhere in the country. They come in and help. And we are going tobe a long time rebuild we made tremendous progress but we have still got a mighty tallmountain in front of us. But I am just totally confident about what's going on therebecause of the spirit and the character of the people.Marsha, my wife my my bride of 35 years, she went to the coast 70 of the first 90 daysafter the storm. And she kind of served as my eyes and ears as well as a symbol ofsomebody cared. But she told me on Friday after the storm on Monday, three four dayslater, a story that gave me all the confidence, not just optimism but confidence. We sawright after the storm that the FEMA materials didn't have baby stuff in it. You know theyhad these MREs like soldiers eat, but they didn't have baby formula or baby food ordiapers, so Marsha, every time a highway patrol or national guard plane would comedown or helicopter we fill up the empty space with the baby stuff. And on Friday Marshawas over Northern Hancock county, about 15 miles inland but because it was so far way,so it was just obliterated and she had two highway patrolmen in a clip clap pick up and theyare driving down the road, over on the left is a double wire trailer, that she said itlooked, like a beer can it had been twisted up, but in the yard were two little kids. SoMarsha thought she had stuck the jackpot, she drove in and the guys got out, sure enougha man and a his wife and eight children, they lived in this trailer. So the guys startunloading out the back and after a little bit of demand father says to the guys that yeah,that's enough for us, that's fine and they said oh we got plenty, they start unloading againhe said to them, now look we got plenty, there is a little lady across the road who is ashut in and we know nobody has been able to help her. Take it would you take it overand I said sure but look we got plenty, you got all these children, they start unloadingagain, he said well if you really got plenty when you go down this highway less than amile there is a dirt road that runs back to the right and there are five or six families wholive there. And nobody could have found them to help them, take this to them.Now we knew that poor people who didn't have anything before the storm lost what littlethey had and they are worried about the little old lady across the road who is a shut in.That gives you confidence, that give you confidence about the spirit and the care to repay.And I think our people showed they are strong, resilient, self reliant bunch of people. Infact a few months after the storm, Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Home Land Securitywas on the coast for something, now Chertoff is a New Yorker, actually he is fromnorthern New Jersey but it is all the same where I come from. So so Chertoff where Icome from Chertoff says to me say you know, how you like and I think your responsejust validates, they said highlight every body in America has got their opinions in NewYork in New York. Where we are they got a opinion New York and New York good, bad,rarely indifferent. But then he said you know nobody's opinion in New York and NewYork is today is what it was before September 11th. September 11th invariable marked ourbrains and hearts with a very different idea about New York and New Yorkers. He saidthe same thing is true about Mississippi and Katrina.My state is always my whole life time any way suffered from a negative image, a lot ofpeople who are considering businesses thought that's not a place I would be muchinterested in going. But Katrina has changed that for Mississippi, we were on TV verymuch but we were on TV enough that people saw the acts of courage and selflessness,they saw the people taking care of themselves and helping their neighbors. In fact a lot ofCEOs that I have seen in year and a half have said to me "Boy! You got to be proud ofyour people, those are the kind of people we'd like to have work for us, their kids go toschool with our kids and their families goes to church with our families. In fact I don'tthink Toyota would have made the decision this year to locate its new North Americaplant in Mississippi if it hadn't been for Katrina because I think Katrinamade them look one more time. I was raised in Yazoo City Mississippi still live there, mydaddy there when I was two and my mom had raised my two older brothers and me. Shetaught us growing up that crisis and catastrophe do not create character but that disasterreveals character. People in Mississippi are not any way different in their and spirit andcharacters than they were before the storm but because of the character that was there andhas been revealed we have made a tremendous amount of progress, and we are going tocontinue to make that progress and I attribute more of it to the people of Mississippi onthe ground, their love for their communities and their willingness to be self reliant andwork hard and I am glad that I have a little chance to share with you all the story of howour state coped with the worst natural disaster in American history.Thank you very much.