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Governor will exit quietly in Louisiana

March 21, 2007|Ann M. Simmons | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said Tuesday that she would not seek reelection this fall.

Blanco, a Democrat, has seen her popularity plummet due in large part to the state's sluggish recovery from hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

With nine months left in her term, Blanco said her withdrawal from the race would allow initiatives she planned to raise in the upcoming legislative session to move forward without being hampered by partisan politics.

"I am doing this so we can work without interference from election year politics," she said in a brief televised address.

Blanco, 64, who is Louisiana's first female governor, said she had committed "every waking hour" to dealing with the state's recovery.

But analysts said her leadership during the crisis probably would have sealed Blanco's defeat had she run. She was widely criticized for being slow to request federal help in the immediate aftermath of the storms.

She was subsequently unable to cement education and rebuilding initiatives, stimulate the economy or forge strong coordination between federal, state and local government, analysts said.

"The hurricane was clearly a problem in terms of her response," said Peter Burns, a political scientist at Loyola University here. "And afterward, in the rebuilding, people didn't see the kind of leadership they wanted. She had a very slim chance of winning."

More than anything, the shortcomings of the Road Home program, a state-run initiative designed to disburse federal funds to help residents rebuild their homes, proved her undoing, analysts said.

So far, only about 3,000 of more than 115,000 homeowners who have applied for assistance through the program have received grants. Last week, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development slammed the state for wrongly distributing reimbursements to homeowners piecemeal, rather than awarding them the money in a lump sum.

Half a dozen contenders had declared their intention to challenge Blanco in this fall's election, including U.S. Rep. Bobby Jindal, a popular Republican whom Blanco narrowly defeated in a 2003 runoff.

Former U.S. Sen. John Breaux, who is yet to announce whether he will enter the race, is expected to be a Democratic candidate.

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ann.simmons@latimes.com

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