A majority of the nation’s governors say they’re not on board with President Bush’s suggestion the active-duty military take the lead role in providing disaster relief, a new poll says.
According to a USA Today survey, just two of 38 governors who responded to the newspaper’s query said they backed the president’s plan: Republican Govs. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
About half of those who responded said they were either opposed or held reservations about Bush’s plan. Among that group, the paper said, was GOP Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, the president’s brother.
The younger Bush, during his tenure as Florida’s chief executive, has gained much experience in providing disaster relief, having had to oversee the management and recovery of a record number of major storms since taking office. In 2004 alone, Florida was hit with four major storms in a six-week period, ending with Hurricane Jeanne in late September.
According to responses in the survey, the major objection to Bush’s plan appears to be a reluctance by governors to turn over state authority to the federal government. Most governors would resist federal intrusion even in response to an event the size and scope of Hurricane Katrina, which so far has resulted in more than 1,100 deaths.
“Whether a governor is a Republican or Democrat, I would expect the response would be, ‘Hell no,’” Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, said in her response.
Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a former head of the Republican National Committee whose state was impacted by Katrina, also distanced himself from Washington. His spokesman, Pete Smith, told USA Today, that although his boss’ position was that some federal help may be appropriate and necessary, “we don’t need them coming in and running things.”
As for Romney, he said he believes Bush’s plan deserves attention. “A fair question to ask is, ‘If the federal government is paying the bill, should not it also be in command?’” he said.
Some lawmakers have also suggested employing the active-duty military in the role of primary disaster response agency, but they have acknowledged to make it a reality, some changes in the law will be required.
The 1878 Posse Comitatus law forbids the U.S. military from being used in a domestic law enforcement capacity – though it clearly acts in that capacity overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for active-duty forces to help local authorities arrest looters in the aftermath of a natural disaster, for example, that law would have to be amended or repealed altogether.
And that’s not something everyone believes is necessary or even smart.
“I would never abdicate, nor would I expect any other governor to abdicate, the responsibility to protect the people of my state,” Democratic West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin said, in response to the survey.
Gene Healy, a senior editor at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, also panned Bush’s idea.
“Having already wrecked a legendary American city, Hurricane Katrina may now be invoked to undermine a fundamental principle of American law; that principle, enshrined in the Posse Comitatus Act, is that when it comes to domestic policing, the military should be a last resort, not a first responder,” he said.