Hurricane Gustav has altered the agenda of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. Some of the Iowa Republicans in attendance note disaster victims in Iowa didn’t get the same level of show-stopping attention this spring.
Sarah Henderson of Cedar Rapids says it’s time for Iowa’s elected officials to stand up and make sure Iowa storm victims aren’t forgotten in the rush to help hurricane victims. "As a former city council member in Cedar Rapids, it’s very disheartening to see where we’re sitting now and there’s so many people’s lives in limbo, wanting to know what the federal government is going to be able to do for us," Henderson says, "and this is a time when congress should step up and do what’s right."
Henderson is a delegate to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. "After what Cedar Rapids went through, I’m extremely sensitive to what’s happening on the Gulf Coast," Henderson says. "But I think it brings to light that Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats had no problem going on vacation without passing a flood relief package for eastern Iowa and the state of Iowa as a whole," Henderson says.
Henderson, who by the way is not related to Radio Iowa news director O. Kay Henderson, works in downtown Cedar Rapids. "We just got back in our building last week and we’re one of the lucky ones," Henderson says. "I think about people who are still homeless, who still are not settled not even just physically but financially it’s going to be a long time and we cannot let people forget what happened in June."
Delegate Katherine Farrand, also of Cedar Rapids, says it’s "worth noting" Iowa cities and residents didn’t get the same kind of national attention when flood waters hit. "It’s unfortunate that our federal legislature decided that they could recess in the wake of our disaster and that our state legislature would not call a special session," Farrand says. "I mean we have a lot of people in Cedar Rapids unfortunately in limbo and they’re not even sure what goal to move towards because they’ve not been given one and I think that maybe if we’re going to discuss natural disaster and federal response or even state-level response at this point, it’s certainly a good time to bring it up to be very real and fair to those in Cedar Rapids."
David Chung is another Iowa Republican convention delegate from Cedar Rapids. "Certainly FEMA has a limited amount of funds that are going to be spread around all sorts of natural disasters and the potential is the Gulf Coast, the scope may be much worse it was in Cedar Rapids," Chung says, "so we’ll see what happens."
Delegate John Ortega of Davenport says Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama should go visit the hurricane zone. "It demands his attention and he should be there. I criticize him for that, It was a bad decision his part just like Bush’s not to go there until four days after the event," Ortega says. "You’ve got to go there and be on top of things." Oretega was, of course, referring to President Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Obama’s campaign has said he’s staying away from the Gulf coast now, as an Obama visit would deploy law enforcement away from hurricane duty.
President Bush and Vice President Cheney canceled their speeches in St. Paul last night and convention business was kept to just the essentials at the order of the party’s presumed nominee, John McCain. Iowa delegate Tamara Scott of Des Moines is attending her first national convention. "I’m absolutely disappointed anytime I can’t see the president, but we have business to do and so does he."
T. J. Augustine of Fort Dodge, a 19-year-old Republican delegate, had no problem with the scaled-back convention schedule either. "You know, it really doesn’t bother me," Augustine says. "There’s so much else going on in our country right now and what’s going on down in Louisiana comes first."
Dave Roederer, chairman of McCain’s Iowa campaign effort, is encouraging Iowa Republicans to talk with other states’ delegates about the aftermath of the flooding in Iowa. "Remind everybody that it wasn’t too long ago that Iowa was devastated by floods and we still have thousands of people outside their homes," Roederer says. "I know in Cedar Rapids alone we have 592 businesses that have been displaced."