It appears to be a new axiom of American politics and crisis leadership. If you live in a state that's suffered a natural disaster--and you have a Democratic governor--be afraid. Be very, very afraid.
Consider this observation from Kathleen Sebelius, the Democrat who has served as Kansas' governor since 2002. After touring the tornado-ravaged town of Greensburg over the weekend, Governor Sebelius stated that the recovery effort will be hampered, because so much of the needed equipment is in Iraq.
Sebelius said much of the National Guard equipment usually positioned around the state to respond to emergencies is gone. She said not having immediate access to things like tents, trucks and semitrailers will really handicap the rebuilding effort...The Kansas National Guard has about 40 percent of the equipment it is allotted because much of it has been sent to Iraq.
Needless to say, that equipment report is a gross over-simplification. Any modern military organization--including the National Guard--with only 40% of its equipment (in all categories) would be rated as C-5, a ranking usually assigned to new units, or those that have been decimated in combat. My guess is that the Kansas Guard is short of equipment in some categories, but it has needed stockpiles of other hardware. But, you've got to give Ms. Sebelius some credit for resurrecting one of her party's post-Katrina talking points, and applying it to a disaster in her own state.
Here's a little challenge for KWCH, KAKE, KSN, The Wichita Eagle, and other media outlets that have been covering the storm. Contact the Kansas Guard Adjutant General's office or his PA staff, and request readiness assessments (C-ratings) for the guard as a whole, and for units in areas affected by the storm. Then, compare those assessments to Governor Sebelius' blanket indictment, and we'll see if she's right, or simply blowing smoke (my money is on option #2).
But, for the sake of fairness, let's suppose that Kansas guard is short of equipment needed to cope with the disaster. That leads us to the leadership question of the day for Governor Sebelius; what are you doing to alleviate the problem? Your state is home to a number of major military installations, including Ft. Riley and McConnell AFB. Both have engineering units that could provide some of the equipment and material needed in Greensburg. And, if those organizations are also tied up in Iraq, how about a formal request to neighboring states? In the aftermath of Katrina, guardsmen from Florida and Texas (among other states) played a key role in relief operations in Louisiana and Mississippi. Guard units from Missouri, Colorado, Nebraska or Oklahoma have engineering, security and medical skills that could be tapped with a simple phone call. Neighboring states are also home to other active duty installations that could provide equipment and support, if Sebelius would only make the call.
Finally, what ever happened to good, old-fashioned enterprise and innovation? Need some heavy equipment to clear away rubble? This may come as a shock to Governor Sebelius, but there are plenty of companies--including some in Kansas--that will rent backhoes, front-end loaders, dump trucks, cranes and the other tools needed for the job. Yes, that might mean shifting funds away from one of the governor's pet projects, but I think most Kansans would agree that the situation in Greensburg takes precedent right now.
Sebelius, on the other hand, seems to be taking a page from the playbook of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, who (after Hurricane Katrina) waited for the federal government to ride to the rescue, with disastrous results. Judging from her remarks over the weekend, it looks like Sebelius is already in the "blame Washington" mode--hardly a surprise, since Sebelius is chairman of the Democratic Governor's Association. But, you've got to wonder how well that strategy will play in a state that has always valued self-reliance and helping neighbors. Luckily for Sebelius, she won re-election in 2006. Unfortunately for citizens of Kansas, they've got to put up with her for three more years. In the interim, local leaders in southwestern Kansas would do well to work with their Congressional delegation, and keep the number for Sunbelt Rentals on speed dial. Only three days after the Greensburg tornado, Governor Sebelius is already throwing up her hands in despair.