Senator: LA is as Corrupt as Iraq - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Senator: LA is as Corrupt as Iraq

A Republican senator from Idaho is the latest to invoke Louisiana's reputation for political corruption as Congress considers whether to spend billions of dollars on hurricane recovery.

Sen. Larry Craig told his home state constituents that fraud is as much a part of the fabric of Louisiana as it is in Iraq and that flooded sections of New Orleans should be abandoned.

"Fraud is in the culture of Iraqis. I believe that is true in the state of Louisiana as well," Craig was quoted as saying in the Lewiston (Idaho) Morning Tribune on Thursday.

He was also quoted in the McCall (Idaho) Star News, saying "Louisiana and New Orleans are the most corrupt governments in our country, and they always have been... . A rookie cop in New Orleans, they pay him or her $17,000 starting pay and then wink and say you better make the rest of it on the street."

As a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, Craig is in a position to back up his words with actions by withholding support for hurricane-related spending.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., blasted Craig's comments as "old stereotypes" and "ignorant remarks." But Louisiana's sleazy political past has clearly become part of the hurricane recovery debate in Congress.

Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., has urged his colleagues not to let Louisiana politicians get their hands on the $62 billion appropriated so far because of "mind-boggling incompetence" in dealing with the storm and Louisiana's "long history of corruption."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was slightly more circumspect, but just as worried. Collins, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, urged Senate leaders to quickly take up legislation to strengthen oversight of hurricane-related spending. She said it is becoming "increasingly evident" that federal relief efforts are "vulnerable to widespread abuse and waste."

As Craig toured his state during the congressional recess, he also had some thoughts on redeveloping New Orleans that may be worrisome to people in flood-ravaged neighborhoods contemplating rebuilding.

The Morning Tribune quoted him saying there is growing Senate support for abandoning whole sections of New Orleans flooded by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He mentioned the Lower Ninth Ward as an example.

"I'm not humorous when I suggest we should turn it back to what it was, a wetland," Craig was quoted as saying.

The comment echoed a remark by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., in the days after the Aug. 29 storm. He said whole neighborhoods of the city should be bulldozed.

Landrieu conceded that the state has a decidedly checkered political past but also took note of other states with ethically challenged politicians. She mentioned the indictment last month of House Majority Leader Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on money laundering and conspiracy charges.

She called Craig's references to the Ninth Ward "absolutely offensive."

"I remain hopeful that these hurtful remarks were not reported as he intended," Landrieu said.

But a Craig spokesman said the senator stood by the comments. The spokesman added that they weren't intended to reflect on Landrieu personally.

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