[[D I S A S T E R S]] * Not that the White House has shown much effort over the last month to name a “hurricane czar,” somebody to oversee budget-busting post-Katrina and post-Rita clean-up efforts along America’s Gulf Coast. But it’s looking more and more like Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won’t be tapped for the job, in any case. The first-term Republican and possible 2008 GOP presidential candidate is having a hard enough time dealing with flooding in his own state. After calling the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina “an embarrassment,” Romney is now feeling the heat for what the Associated Press calls his “tepid initial response to the heavy rains” that drenched western Massachusetts this last week.
Evidently, the governor was absent from his state, appearing before an influential conservative economic group in North Carolina, when the deluge hit Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut--bringing to mind how George W. Bush had stuck to a schedule of speechifying and vacationing even as Katrina was drowning New Orleans at the end of August. Democrats have jumped all over Romney for being AWOL. “Certainly by Monday [October 10] when the governor chose to go to North Carolina he could have known that we had a situation here,” says state Representative Christopher Donelan. “It wasn’t just that he was out of town, he was out of touch.” Republicans, meanwhile, dismiss such criticism as politically motivated. Says Brad Jones, Massachusetts state House Republican leader: “You’re going to get to the point where the governor can never go out of state because something bad might happen.”
But the bottom line here is: With Bush already in free fall, as far as his job approval ratings go, and with Republicans worried about how disastrously their party’s congressional and White House scandals will affect their prospects in the 2006 midterm elections, Romney’s may not be the sort of face, after all, that the GOP wants fronting the Gulf Coast recovery campaign. I’m guessing now that the Bush administration will endeavor to ignore lingering calls for the appointment of a hurricane czar, since it would only remind voters that the White House has been racking up failures, rather than successes, in recent months. Tough luck, Mitt.