State Auditor Stacey Pickering: State Sen. Chris McDaniel’s accusations of Katrina fraud are intolerable

For most South Mississippians, revisiting Hurricane Katrina brings to mind images of homes stripped to their foundation, cities replaced by debris, bridges in ruins and our fellow Mississippians huddled near each other as they sifted among the rubble. Our memories aren’t pleasant and, thankfully, are being replaced by a new, thriving Gulf Coast that is rebuilding itself. However, the hurricane stands in the national spotlight again due to accusations of corruption made by state Sen. Chris McDaniel in a recent story in the Washington, D.C., publication Politico. In the article, McDaniel insinuates that U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran acted hastily in expediting passage of $5.5 billion in Katrina relief funds to help Mississippi families and businesses recover from the worst natural disaster in our country’s history.

In Politico, McDaniel said it would not have been “an easy vote to cast” and described the bill as “laden with pork,” arguing the disaster money was largely misspent.

Later, McDaniel commented on Facebook that, “Independent studies on Katrina relief have demonstrated more than $2 billion in waste and misspent funds. Some of the waste went for such ‘necessities’ as guns, strippers and tattoos.” Worse, he cited a New York Times article in which not one example comes from Mississippi.

With all due respect, Chris McDaniel, who is Cochran’s opponent in the upcoming Republican primary, got this wrong and his insinuations about massive fraud related to Katrina recovery in Mississippi are not accurate.

McDaniel and I are both from Jones County and our hometowns were hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. Sustained winds of more than 110-miles-per-hour ripped through the area where 12 people were among the 235 statewide who lost their lives in the fury. Yet, before the sun had set on that infamous Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, chainsaws were roaring as neighbor helped neighbor in our rural community.

Even though many in our county were without water or electricity for more than two weeks (and I personally had to ask for diapers, water and formula from out-of-state friends because our local stores were shuttered), what we suffered was dwarfed by the destruction on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I went to the Coast, and I saw the unbelievable damage and listened to the strong Mississippi hearts of our citizens there.

Katrina relief funding ultimately was an easy vote to cast. The U.S. Senate unanimously approved Sen. Cochran’s plan after an overreaching plan from Louisiana was stopped. Schools, churches, shipyards, police stations, bridges and military bases, not to mention tens of thousands of homes, had to be rebuilt. I do not consider the Mississippi Gulf Coast pork. On this, Chris and I can agree to disagree.

But what I cannot tolerate is Chris’s misrepresentation of the facts concerning the disaster relief funds received by our state.