Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Perry staffers' e-mail recorded Katrina turmoil
The Houston Chronicle ^ | 01/22/2006 | By LISA FALKENBERG

Posted on 01/22/2006 5:21:11 AM PST by oxcart

AUSTIN - As desperate people fled hurricane-ravaged New Orleans in search of food and shelter last fall, Gov. Rick Perry publicly welcomed them to Texas with the open arms of a caring neighbor.


But behind the scenes, Perry's administration quickly began discussing how to quell the flood of humanity pouring into the state while protecting the governor's image, according to e-mail released to the Houston Chronicle under the state's Public Information Act.

"Question between you and I," Perry's communications director, Eric Bearse, wrote Sept. 1, "at what point do we go from being compassionate to being taken advantage of (meaning, are they sending us folks they don't want?). Please erase when done reading."

"Excelent point," Texas Homeland Security Director Steve McCraw responded. "We will soon hit that mark and will (be) able to push off to other states without appearing dispassionate. We just need to make sure the Feds fund all of the short term and long term costs consider it erased."

The e-mail message is one of thousands of documents that provide a behind-the-scenes peek at Texas' response to Hurricane Katrina through the narrow lens of Perry's administration and staff.

The correspondence, between Aug. 28 and Sept. 4, captures a wide variety of concerns among Perry's staff, including security fears and frustration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Perry staffers discussed how much credit the governor should get for the state's response, and they offered scathing commentary on the performance of certain officials, a perceived reluctance of some Texas cities to harbor evacuees and the unwillingness of some local leaders to follow the state's advice. At one point, they even considered taking over the evacuation operation in Houston because of local bickering.

But unlike the e-mail messages of disgraced former FEMA Director Michael Brown and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's staff, those released by Perry's office don't dwell on the governor's wardrobe or how he appeared on camera.

The bulk of messages depicts a focused staff working all hours to find shelter for evacuees, calm worried congressmen such as then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and coordinate donations of bottled water and mobile homes, among other things.

"I don't think the e-mails quite capture the intensity of those moments," Perry press secretary Kathy Walt said. "In addition to e-mail traffic, there were phone calls going on. It was kind of multitasking to the nth degree. Tensions were high. Everybody knew what was at stake."

Statewide evacuee cap Hours after the Astrodome opened, it was overflowing with evacuees, including many who were arriving on so-called renegade buses. Fire officials capped the number of people in the Astrodome at 8,000, a figure local officials hoped to push to 10,000, McCraw wrote. But that still left 15,000 without shelter at the time.

Texas would have to start diverting evacuees to Dallas and San Antonio and smaller cities throughout the state and consider a statewide cap, perhaps 100,000, McCraw advised.

"I do not believe we will be able to 'cap' very well," responded Phil Wilson, Perry's deputy chief of staff. "It seems like a very difficult challenge to put a hard and fast number on, though it makes sense."

"We have no choice than to cap," added Deirdre Delisi, Perry's chief of staff. "Otherwise the feds will send more and more. Can we get them to engage other states, like Ark or tenn?"

Despite glowing TV reports that juxtaposed the war-zone scene at the New Orleans Superdome with the clean, organized haven of the Astrodome, security quickly deteriorated at the Dome, messages show.

Perry's office received reports of fights, thefts, car vandalism, an assault and confiscations of handguns, knives and a bayonet.

"Houston PD has confiscated enough alcohol to fill two 55 gallon drums and a small amount of narcotics," said e-mail from the Texas Department of Safety's Criminal Intelligence Service.

A message to McCraw noted that Houston police had asked the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to send 32 enforcement officers because "the situation is growing out of control."

"Apparently tensions are high because alcohol and weapons were taken away from the evacuees," Delisi wrote Sept. 1. "Don't ask me how they got alcohol."

Officials also worried they were sheltering pedophiles and gang members alongside women and children, McCraw said.

The crowd became so unruly the first day that the Red Cross advised officials with the Texas Education Agency not to visit because law enforcement couldn't guarantee their safety.

"I have real concern developing about lawlessness breaking out in Texas as a result of our generosity," Walt wrote. "We need to make certain we do not exceed our ability to provide necessities for those we are agreeing to take. What's the plan for those who see the Astrodome as their rightful home for the next 90 days? What's the plan for handling increase in prison/jail population?"

DeLay apparently shared that concern.

On Sept. 2, Wilson wrote McCraw and Perry staff that someone with the Sugar Land Republican's office called, wanting to know whether Perry planned to call the National Guard to "protect Houston" from what was happening in New Orleans.

Houston had direct access to as many state troopers as needed, McCraw responded. The Guard, understaffed after deployments to Louisiana and overseas, would be deployed only if necessary, he added.

"Houston or any other city in Texas will not turn into a (New Orleans). Thanks," McCraw wrote.

"DeLay's office called again," Wilson wrote 18 minutes later. This time, DeLay's staff said the city of Houston was asking for the Guard to patrol the perimeter of Reliant Park and the George R. Brown Convention Center and to provide logistics support.

The Guard would take too long, McCraw responded. He had requested 360 troopers instead.

A couple of hours later, Wilson wrote, "DeLay's staff called again and DeLay was standing right there. He REALLY wants to talk to the gov-especially about the national guard."

An hour later, McCraw was writing Perry's office for permission to activate 1,000 members of the Army National Guard to support evacuation and shelter operations throughout the state.

Perceived breakdown

As busloads of evacuees waited outside the brimming Astrodome, Perry staffers grew so concerned about a perceived breakdown of leadership among Houston politicians and law enforcement that officials proposed either a stern talking-to by Perry or a state takeover of the Houston operation, according to a Walt e-mail message.

"Steve McCraw advises big problems with leadership at the local level in Houston," Walt wrote to other Perry staff. "Decades of infighting between city and county, sheriff's office and police office have resulted in a total breakdown of leadership."

Walt listed options.

The first: "Take over by sending someone to Houston and letting Harris county and Houston officials know the state is in charge," she wrote. "Obvious political ramifications if we do that."

The second was for Perry to call Harris County Judge Robert Eckels, Mayor Bill White, Sheriff Tommy Thomas and Police Chief Harold Hurtt and "tell them the bickering has to stop," Walt wrote.

Neither option was ever used because Houston-area officials settled their differences among themselves, McCraw said. Although the e-mail credits him with the idea for the takeover, McCraw said someone else recommended it.

"At no time did I think the state should go in and take over," he said. "We were in fact very proud of what they were able to do there in Houston."

Eckels did not return a call for comment. White's communications director, Frank Michel, said remarks in the e-mail were "off-base," but he didn't take them to heart.

"A lot of things get said in the heat of the battle, and I certainly don't begrudge people their opinion about things in a crisis like that," he said. "What Houston did as a city speaks for itself, and the level of cooperation was a model."

The next day, it was Dallas' handling of the shelter efforts there that drew criticism from Perry's staff.

A Sept. 3 story in the Dallas Morning News about the city's struggle to find room for evacuees infuriated Perry's staff.

Outspoken Dallas Mayor Laura Miller was quoted as saying Perry had done nothing to help, besides showing up for a photo opportunity.

"This story is unbelievable," Walt wrote staff. "so much whining and nay-saying."

"In my opinion, the story makes them look like (expletive)," Delisi responded. "For cities as wealthy as those in the metroplex, the kind of rhetoric is underwhelming."

A tiff with Miller appeared to be resolved in e-mail McCraw sent just after noon.

"I called Laura Miller and we had a long talk and I was able to figure her real source of anger and we concluded on cordial terms," McCraw wrote. "She promised to be supportive at the next conference."

But late that night, Miller, a Democrat in a nonpartisan post, was quoted in another Morning News story reiterating her complaints about evacuee overload in Dallas.

"My advice to laura miller: stop talking to the press. She's making herslef look terrible," Delisi wrote.

"Any faint hope she may have been clinging to for a statewide run is now gone," deputy press secretary Robert Black wrote. "The moment came to be a leader and she met it with a whine and a complaint."

"That is almost poetic," Delisi responded.

Miller did not return a telephone call to the Chronicle.

Both she and White, also a Democrat, have been touted as possible candidates for statewide office.

'Get him briefed up'

Criticism, though, wasn't reserved just for Democrats. When Katrina was still plowing toward the Gulf Coast, Walt had McCraw speak with Ric Williamson, state transportation commission chairman and a close friend of Perry's. But messages show McCraw was unimpressed and a little dumbfounded by some of Williamson's suggestions.

"Approximately 20% of all US petroleum processing assets could be destroyed tonight and tomorrow," Williamson wrote Aug. 28, the day before the hurricane struck. In another message, he suggested the need to plan for "emergency measures to permit construction of petroleum refineries in Texas."

That day, McCraw wrote Assistant Attorney General Jay Kimbrough that "this Ric guy" is a "piece of work. Full of off the wall projections and recommendations and yet does not know what his own agency is already doing. I am sure he means well but I need to get him briefed up so he does not start firing off e-mails that we have to respond to."

"That will be helpful before I talk to him again," Kimbrough responded. "He was way out there today and caused a lot of extra work firing off e-mails to the staff. We would look like idiot if we did anything he suggested."

"Those are two guys under a lot of stress, as were all of us," Williamson responded. "They speak with candor, and that's what the governor expects."

Williamson said his projections were made in a very fluid situation and that it's impossible for him to know all the workings of an agency with more than 14,000 employees.

After the hurricane hit and the situation in New Orleans worsened, Perry's office clung to the reins of Texas' response amid breaches in protocol, disorganization and a surge of requests for Texas' military police, Air Guard, doctors, nurses and other personnel.

On Aug. 30, as the second levee broke in New Orleans, Perry adviser Logan Spence wrote Walt that the Guard was deploying about 500 Texas National Guardsmen, aircraft and vehicles to the Crescent City.

"Like hell," Walt responded. "where's the authorization coming from????"

"(State Operations Center Director) Jack Colley is working this with the Adjutant General," Spence replied.

"Well (expletive)," Walt wrote seconds later. "Colley doesn't have the authority to call out the national guard. Only the governor does. This kind of (expletive) has been going on all day."

How much credit?

From the start, Perry's staff mulled over how much credit the governor should get for the state's preparedness.

Bearse wrote that even though the Texas Transportation Department already was assisting in Katrina preparedness, it "may make sense" for the governor to send Williamson a letter requesting assistance because Williamson "wants the gov. to get credit for directing their actions vs. the agency just doing it."

Walt cautioned: "From a press perspective, we walk a fine line in announcing what actions we have taken and looking like the gov is trying to capitalize on others' tragedy."

A similar issue arose Aug. 31, when Perry staffers debated whether the governor should go ahead with a ceremonial signing of an eminent domain bill even as 80 percent of New Orleans remained under water, leaving its residents clinging to roofs.

"I am very concerned that we are doing this press event at all today," Wilson wrote. "This hurricane is so devastating to try and focus attention on our success makes us look selfish and out of touch."

"We decided to follow the (President) Bush model, which is to start with comments on the big news, but continue with the event," Bearse responded.

"Still a bad idea," Wilson wrote back.

Perry went ahead with the press event but made it clear that New Orleans took precedence.

Frustrated with FEMA

As evacuees swamped every major Texas city, messages show that Perry's staff was becoming increasingly frustrated with FEMA's delays in helping locate housing and granting permission for other states to take evacuees.

FEMA officials repeatedly blocked Perry's efforts to put together an airlift to move Katrina evacuees to other states.

Utah Gov. John Huntsman had offered to divert a military transport plane and send buses to pick up evacuees, even at the risk of not getting reimbursed by FEMA.

"I wish there were more Governors like yours," Delisi wrote Huntsman's chief of staff.

Utah's efforts were stalled as Delisi awaited word from FEMA and the Defense Department. Efforts by Michigan, West Virginia, Iowa, Oklahoma and New York also were in limbo.

Delisi was further discouraged when FEMA turned down West Virginia, apparently because of distance.

"We don't have much of a choice, but this is ridiculous," Delisi responded. "Would a call from the gov to (Homeland Security Secretary Michael) chertoff help? I think they're taking the path of least resistance, but we're reaching a breaking point."

Stress and fatigue wore on the staff and apparently on the governor as well.

On a Sunday afternoon, nearly a week after the hurricane hit, Bearse sent a dispatch titled "no press event this afternoon/evening."

"I spoke to him (Perry) just now," Bearse wrote. "He's not doing it. It was not a pleasant conversation so don't push back on how great an idea it is for him to feed the beast. Not happening. end of subject. ... Also, unless absolutely necessary, no one need call him for a few hours."

While Perry took a rest , his staff kept chugging. Even on Sunday.

When asked who could make a Sunday morning conference call, several obliged.

"I'm currenlty praying at the altar of fox news," Delisi wrote. "I can make it."

TOPICS: Culture/Society; US: Louisiana; US: Texas
KEYWORDS: crime; katrina; neworleans; texas
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041 next last
Bashing The Govenor over doing the right thing.
1 posted on 01/22/2006 5:21:12 AM PST by oxcart
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: oxcart
Global warming heated gulf waters and Mother Nature ripped the walls off liberalism for the whole world to see.

Now what was hillry saying about run like a plantation?
2 posted on 01/22/2006 5:28:49 AM PST by Just mythoughts
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

What is the point of this article?

3 posted on 01/22/2006 5:33:37 AM PST by doberville
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

Way better then Blank-o
There was leadership

4 posted on 01/22/2006 5:33:38 AM PST by txroadhawg ("Stuck on stupid? I invented stupid! " Al Gore)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Just mythoughts

No good deed goes unpunished I see.

5 posted on 01/22/2006 5:34:08 AM PST by Muttering Mike
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

I think Texas did the right thing. You cant blame them for worrying over costs and how many they could accept. Especially now when Texas is just starting to see the long term effects of criminals who crowded in.

6 posted on 01/22/2006 5:34:48 AM PST by sgtbono2002
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

Not a single mention that the NOLA mayor and LA governor had more time to prepare for an orderly evacuation which didn't happen than the Texas governor had to prepare for one which did.

7 posted on 01/22/2006 5:37:19 AM PST by Vigilanteman (crime would drop like a sprung trapdoor if we brought back good old-fashioned hangings)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

Why have we not read articles about the internal emails in the middle of the Katrina crisis between Blanco and her staff, Nagin and his staff? Oh, they're democrats? Okay. I understand.

I just hope that the people of Houston are bigger than these writers and editors and publishers who went after these emails.

We have not yet seen the bottom depth of the depravity of people who want to hurt Republicans, every time wi think we have seen the lowest form of behavior, they go even lower.


8 posted on 01/22/2006 5:40:07 AM PST by maica (We are fighting the War for the Free World. Democrats and the media are not on our side.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: sgtbono2002

Sounds likes they did everything they should do, care about the State of Texas, and try to help people in need. Many of their concerns were well-founded. Nothing much is being made over the steep increase in crime in the Houston area, but as time goes on, it will be. Everybody's afraid to say anything.

9 posted on 01/22/2006 5:42:38 AM PST by NTegraT ((For 12 Days of Christmas))
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: oxcart
Ha ha ha ha! I guess this woman secretly wants Perry reelected.

"Question between you and I," Perry's communications director, Eric Bearse, wrote Sept. 1, "at what point do we go from being compassionate to being taken advantage of (meaning, are they sending us folks they don't want?). Please erase when done reading."

Was the words in parentheses in the e-mail or is this person trying to put words in someones mouth?

10 posted on 01/22/2006 5:42:59 AM PST by normy (Don't hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

As a Texan, I am glad that Perry's Worker Bee's were at least asking realistic questions and making decent decisions. It seems the Lame Stream Media, resents the examination of the pro's and con's of a situation.

I for one am thourouhly satisfied with the way Texas acquitted itself.

11 posted on 01/22/2006 5:44:45 AM PST by rock58seg (It's time for Islam to actually become a religion of peace or a religion of the past.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

Perry is/was gov. of Texas, so his first responsibility was to Texans and he had to consider the effect refugees in large numbers from Louisiana would mean. If e-mails revealed a pie in the sky mentality in spite of endless TV of looters and the incredible corrupt/lying Louisiana politicians, then Perry should be horse-whipped. As it is, he acted honorably. He and Texas are Good Samaritans.

12 posted on 01/22/2006 5:48:26 AM PST by hershey
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: doberville

If it is in the Comical, it is there to bash pubbies.

13 posted on 01/22/2006 5:52:08 AM PST by mathluv (Bushbot, Snowflake, Dittohead ---- Bring it on!!!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

Interesting. Taken as a whole, I don't see that the article bashes Perry. The message to me is that these people [governor, staff, elected officials] were hard at work doing what they were supposed to do, being concerned and realistic about what they should be doing. I don't much like Perry, although I voted for him twice, but it sounds to me as though he did his job well and the state made pretty much the best of a bad situation.

14 posted on 01/22/2006 5:54:03 AM PST by Clara Lou (A conservative is a liberal who has been mugged by reality. --I. Kristol)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: normy

At first I thought that reply in parentheses was the article writer's addition, but now I think it was the emailer's own comment on whether NO was sending people they did not want...

15 posted on 01/22/2006 5:54:11 AM PST by turbocat
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: turbocat

As I went back to re read after your post I think your right. Kinda like when the Cubans dumped a bunch of criminals on the shores of Florida. "Are these people in LA sending us their criminals and gang bangers and drug addicts?" That kind of thing.

16 posted on 01/22/2006 6:00:14 AM PST by normy (Don't hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: sgtbono2002

Conversations with liberals/dems lately seem to focus on conservative/republicans being too stingy with their wealth. This article demonstrates that mentality, that questioning how much one can reasonably help is immoral. The rich republicans of Texas should have accepted the people of NO without question, without knowing how to help them, without knowing if they had enough resources to help them, without knowing how to keep people safe.

Good people in Texas asking good questions that benefit all the people of Texas and the katrina victims.

I am sick of hearing this stuff. Just sick of it. Because people want to discuss the problems they had developing makes them a bigot? Makes them less than generous? The most generous thing they could do was discuss the problems and challanges they were facing so they could be resolved.

Oh wait, liberals don't solve problems.

17 posted on 01/22/2006 6:16:44 AM PST by EBH (Never give-up, Never give-in, and Never Forget)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]


Yes: No doubt the liberals are looking at these emails and spinning them to make Texas look bad.

Actually if they hadnt asked these questions they would have shown ineptness.

Much Like our President would have been inept if he had known Al Quaeda was using phones to contact agents in America and hadnt tried to listen.

18 posted on 01/22/2006 6:20:59 AM PST by sgtbono2002
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: oxcart

I don't see a point to this article! If the concerns (justified by what's going on now here in the Houston area) hadn't been addressed, he'd be lambasted for NOT thinking ahead on this issue. We receieved some of the worst dregs of New Orleans' freeloaders. They blended into the Houston society and now we're seeing them responsible for over half the recent murders here...

19 posted on 01/22/2006 6:25:34 AM PST by Antoninus II
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: maica

It sounds to me like the Texas Governor did all the right things. I don't see how this can hurt him among voters with more than half a brain. Let's hope that's more than half the voting population.

Imagine taking evacuees into your own home. Wouldn't you worry about taking in too many for you to handle? Wouldn't you want to confiscate their drugs, booze, weapons? Wouldn't you worry if you thought some of them were rapists or pedophiles or other types of criminals? Wouldn't you worry about some of them trashing your house? Should trying to protect your family and property detract from the good deed of taking in the refugees?

Let those who point the finger take the evacuees into their own homes. Easy to criticize the way someone else is coping with a problem you don't have to deal with.

I think Americans are gradually beginning to see past the LSM coverage or lack of it. FReepers have seen this for a long time.

20 posted on 01/22/2006 6:30:35 AM PST by generally
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 8 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-4041 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson