Hurricane Gustav may delay RNCby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Hurricane Gustav continues building strength in the Caribbean, and anxiety about the potential for another Katrina-sized disaster is building as far away as Minnesota.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty even paused from answering questions at the Minnesota State Fair about John McCain's new running mate to talk about Gustav and its potential impact on next week's Republican National Convention.
"There's been no definitive word on that, just what you've heard on the news. And we've heard similar thing informally as well, that there may be, if the need arises, that there may be some rescheduling of appearance at the convention or parts of the convention, if there's a need for President Bush or others to stay focused on the situation with the hurricane in the southern United States," said Pawlenty to fair goers.
For Pawlenty and other GOP leaders, it's a matter of priorities and appearances. The governor says the convention is important, but it's not more important than the response to a potential crisis. Republican Congressman Jim Ramstad, who was also visiting the State Fair, said he's concerned about the brewing hurricane.
"I think if it becomes a huge disaster, I think it would be totally appropriate to delay the convention. First things first, and peoples lives come ahead of politics," said Ramstad.
Ramstad says no one wants another Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that devastated the Gulf Coast and left sections of New Orleans under water when levies failed. President George W. Bush was widely criticized for the federal government's slow response, criticism that hangs on even three years later.
Ron Carey, Chairman of the Republican Party of Minnesota, says if a natural disaster strikes the Gulf Coast, Republicans will balance politics with sensitivity to the victims.
"Being good planners, every option is being looked at. Every scenario is being studied. And I think there will be some game time decisions as to if there will be any adjustments to our plans," said Carey.
Convention planners issued a statement saying they are closely monitoring the storm's movement, and they understand that some participants may need to remain home to prepare their states for the approaching storm.
Republican National Convention spokesman Matt Burns also wrote "that while we intend to gavel the convention to order on Monday afternoon, our convention places country first, and ensuring the safety of our citizens is of paramount importance."
The four-day convention is expected to draw an estimated 45,000 people to the Twin Cities. Law enforcement officials have been working for nearly two years on their public safety plan for the RNC. St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington says delaying the start of the convention is "not a practical reality."
"We have officers here who are on loan to us from numerous departments. Well over 100 different departments are represented for this event. And the idea that they could just stay for an extra week or two, I'm thinking their chiefs would have something to say about that. It probably wouldn't be a fun conversation," said Harrington.
An FBI spokesman said his agency is also planning for the convention to start as scheduled on Monday. That is the day President Bush is scheduled to address the convention. The White House press office did not return a call to verify the president's travel plans.
- All Things Considered, 08/29/2008, 5:18 p.m.