Gov. Kathleen Blanco begins her term on a high note and brings a very different style to the executive branch. Beyond all the fuss about her being the state's first woman governor -- the significance of which cannot be denied -- her approach to the job is what really matters.
To understand and appreciate some of Blanco's early moves as governor, you have to look at her electoral history. She always enjoyed Democratic support, but until the governor's race, none of her elections was a divisive, party-driven struggle. She drew support from people of all walks, all parties, all philosophies. Think of her as the Lindy Boggs of Acadiana.
So when, as governor, she kept some of former Gov. Mike Foster's top aides and Cabinet appointees in their old jobs (or moved them into new ones), she wasn't really breaking new ground for Kathleen Blanco. Party stalwarts and veteran politicos find it strange, even shocking, that any holdovers would remain, but that's because they reflect the old, traditional -- dare I say "male" -- way of thinking and acting after an election. To them, it's axiomatic that the "other guys" get tossed, particularly if they worked for a governor from the other party.
Blanco doesn't see it that way. You can say it's because she brings a woman's sensibilities to the task, and that might explain part of it. But it's also the result of her life experiences. She simply doesn't think it's important, or necessary, or even conceivable, to throw someone out just because they worked for a Republican. She looks at what they bring to the table beyond who employed them last.
This is clearly a new way of thinking for a Louisiana governor, and for many it will be a breath of fresh air. Contrast it with the partisan bitterness we've seen recently in Washington, and you'll really get an idea of how different she is.
To some -- particularly to many men -- this will be taken as a sign of weakness. I think women will perceive the merit of Blanco's style very easily, though, because women tend to understand that forgiveness and openness are signs of strength. By keeping the best of Foster's team, Blanco has shown that she has enough confidence in her own judgment to look past party lines, to look at the big picture. It pains me a little to say it, and I hope this is not sexist, but women generally are a lot better than men at that big-picture thing.
But, again, Kathleen Blanco's tenure is about much more than her gender. It's going to be about how she handles the tough problems. She refuses to be rushed into decisions, and that, too, can be a sign of strength.
On another front, she has already kept her campaign promise to be more aggressive about economic development. She may just surprise everybody and be a great salesman for Louisiana. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, her political style is getting most of the attention. That's not unusual. If Blanco were just another good ol' boy in a dress, her election would be no big deal. She isn't, and that, much more than her gender, will define her as a governor.
Car 54, Where Are You?
OK, guys, just in case you thought I was getting all mushy about our female governor, let me say a few words about Sen. Sherri Cheek, the freshly minted Republican lawmaker from Shreveport who got the State Police to fetch her husband's Sugar Bowl tickets and hot-foot them down to the Superdome after he left them at home. He and his buds got the tickets about 45 minutes before kick-off.
Darlin', what were you thinking?
Cheek's only explanation is that she didn't violate state ethics laws.
Whoa, girl. You've only been in office a few days, and you already sound like one of the good ol' boys. What's next for our troopers -- grocery runs? Carpool duty? Soccer pick-up?
Cheek spent 12 years as an aide to former Sen. Ron Bean, another Shreveport Republican. Sounds to me like somebody already has been around the Capitol too long.