Duncan Hunter speaks at the Hope and Recovery Summit.
Two years ago, when I entered New Orleans with Rescue Task Force, the onslaught of flood and destruction dominated this great cit With Andrea Becks, former NFL cornerback Scott Turner, Yuma Mayor Larry Nelson and businessman Roy Tyler, we brought food, water and 1,000 beds to the folks who were in the city and the refugee centers.
With the aid of an airboat driver who could do everything but fly, we were privileged to be a small part of the rescue effort. In those days the headline stories were all about the failure of government – the bureaucracy of FEMA, the difficulty in handling the looting and the snafus of evacuation.
But I saw a different story. It was the story of the great National Guard troops who we found holding the city together, the law enforcement personnel, and the fireman and rescue workers from all over the United States who interrupted their lives to rush to help the people of New Orleans. It was the huge team of volunteers I saw at Houma who were operating the rescue center to clothe, feed and care for people. It was the huge room of clothes stacked so high, with a sign that said, “Please no more clothes are needed.”
Today, $116 billion has been appropriated to remedy the effects of Katrina. The rebuilding effort includes: $17 billion for housing and community development; $8.4 billion for levees and flood control; $10 billion for Small Business Administration loans; and, $3.5 billion for highways and bridges.
But more important than the government programs is the way the citizens of our nation shape and are shaped by this massive hurricane disaster and its aftermath. There are those who portray the people of New Orleans as permanent victims, to whom government owes lifetime entitlements. They view every aspect of Katrina as somehow a reflection of the need for bigger, stronger government, almost to the point to where one wonders if they won’t assign political blame for the winds and waters of the hurricane itself.
I don’t see it that way. I see a great future for New Orleans, based not on what government does for people but because of what free people do for themselves. For every cynic who sees only government as the answer I see people as the answer.
I see optimistic professionals and business people coming to New Orleans to meet the challenge and the opportunity now presented by the rebuilding.
I see young people who might have fallen into a hopeless cycle of dependency on government welfare, now finding fulfillment in the hard work of rebuilding New Orleans.
I see top notch school administrators and educators picking up the challenge of Americans in New Orleans, who have new education dreams for their children, 57% of who attend charter schools.
I see rising from the destruction of Katrina, a new and profound appreciation for freedom. The real story of Katrina and New Orleans is not the inefficiency of government. That is a truth we have always known. The real story of New Orleans and Katrina is the millions of Americans who responded from their hearts, for their fellow citizens who live in this city.
From the senior citizens who gave a part of their fixed income, to the school children who assembled food packages, to the doctors and nurses who volunteered, to the fellow citizens of this state who donated mountains of clothes and food — every nation of the world has a government that responds to its disasters, but no nation has as many citizens willing to share what they have with their fellow man as this blessed land called America.
In 1812, Andrew Jackson and his frontier militia blocked a small passageway of land between an enemy army and this great city. American determination carried that day and New Orleans survived. Since that day, more than 800,000 Americans have given their lives on battlefields around the world so that we may walk, worship and work in freedom.
We succeeded in protecting our nation because we had faith in God and confidence in the goodness of the American people. If we here in New Orleans ask the question, where is the success of our future; is it in government? The answer is and has always has been; no. The success of our future, my friends, is within us, individual people.
It is within our character, the American character of faith in God, of honesty, of hard work, the willingness to take risks, individual accountability and a heart for our fellow citizens.
New Orleans, based on these values, will stand, always.
A great man with a great vision for America.