BEAUMONT, Texas — A news story in the Beaumont Enterprise brings to mind a memory I have about a former U.S. senator who came to the aid of a region that had been struck by what’s been called “the forgotten hurricane.”
It was nearly a decade ago when the Gulf Coast, which was reeling from what had occurred in August 2005 in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina stormed ashore, suffered another killer storm.
Its name was Rita and it slammed into the coast at Sabine Pass, which borders Texas and Louisiana. It roared inland and tore into Beaumont.
City, county and state officials were having trouble getting the feds’ attention. Then came Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, who managed to parlay her good relations with Senate Democrats to fast-track aid to the region that had been walloped by Mother Nature’s fury.
As the Enterprise reported today: “I’ll never forget what Sen. Hutchison and her staff did for us, as a community,” said former Jefferson County Judge Carl Griffith. “(Hutchison) made a huge difference in a lot of people’s lives.”
What she did was work with Louisiana U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, to obtain military aircraft to aid in evacuation and the delivery of supplies to the region. Other efforts to get the White House — where Republican President George W. Bush lived at the time — had fallen short.
Hutchison’s work made the difference.
Indeed, my memory of her familiarity with this part of Texas is quite vivid. I had the honor during my nearly 11 years working at the Enterprise to interview Sen. Hutchison as she would come by to, um, chat and to update us on senatorial goings-on.
And almost always, without fail, Hutchison would remind me of how she spent time visiting extended family members living in Old Town, a noted residential district in Beaumont.
She knew the region and wasn’t about to let bureaucratic bumbling stand in the way of relief for the home folks.
Nor was Hutchison going to waste the political capital she had piled up with her friends across the aisle.
Bruce Drury, a retired political science professor at Lamar University — who I knew fairly well while I worked in Southeast Texas — said that Hutchison’s ability to cross party lines is not nearly as evident with today’s Texas congressional delegation. “We have two Republican senators, neither one of whom have attempted to cultivate goodwill with the administration,” Drury told the Enterprise, adding that “to some extent the administration hasn’t been overly active in trying to establish links.”
As the former senator demonstrated, it’s nice to know people in the right places.