Op-Ed: Garret Graves a breath of fresh air
Ordinarily I would have preferred a candidate from closer to home when the time came to elect a congressman to represent this area. Commercial and recreational fishing issues, coastal erosion and other problems unique to Terrebonne and Lafourche would seem to demand some special treatment, and some guarantee that the person filling the seat is sensitive to the unique aspects of the electorate and the geography where they live.
Garret Graves, however, offered some promise. Although Baton Rouge based, and more closely affiliated with Bobby Jindal, the former governor, than I might have preferred, Graves had some other things going for him. As Jindal’s former coastal czar, Graves had more experience than most people dealing with the complexities of the Louisiana coast. That’s a big qualification for here.
So I wasn’t too terribly concerned when he took office. We would, I thought, have a congressman who could earn his keep.
I was surprised, frankly, when he locked horns in mortal combat with former Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Charlie Melancon over legislation that would have the federal government cede control of red snapper management to the state. A lot of my friends applauded this. I had concerns, to be honest. Melancon lost. Graves won. The legislation must be reintroduced to live in this session, which is something that Graves plans to do. Some of the reasons why people were nervous about this – particularly those in the commercial fishing sector – may be addressed when the red snapper bill resurfaces and that’s likely a good thing for everyone concerned.
What became clear for better or worse was that Garret Graves had no problem speaking his mind.
The combative Graves was very much in evidence last week, a sort of running battle with Gov. John Bel Edwards over how the state has handled money to help Baton Rouge and surrounding areas with all the flooding that has occurred there. It got downright nasty.
When Garret Graves visited The Times while on a break from duties in Washington D.C. there was some question on my part as to whether we might be drawn into this.
My fears were not based in fact.
We spent more than an hour with the congressman, more time than we were initially allotted. And if there is one thing that comes out of spending an hour or more with Garret Graves it is that he is open, eager to answer questions, and may indeed be the breath of fresh air Washington so sorely needs.
He handled question after question with ease. The President’s budget, I noted to him, would eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program. It would also eliminate SeaGrant, a program that has come to mean a great deal to folks here, especially commercial fishermen, with whom I have become very close over the years.
Yes, SeaGrant could be eliminated, Graves said. But he also noted the fine work done by its director, Robert Twilley. Even if the program by this name is eliminated, he said, there is no way he would allow this work to be eliminated, even if it is done under some other name, and there seemed no question that he wants the people running it to continue doing so. Problems shrimpers are having with requirements that would have them build vessels as if they were meant for Alaska – Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach – are something Graves says he is quite aware of. Those talks are being handled behind the scenes, because legislation could get trounced by senators from other states. When he gave his detailed answer, I must confess, I believed him. I reserve the right to invoke journalistic doubt, of course, but for now I have no reason to do so.
When Garret Grave left our conference room I felt oddly refreshed. He was open, confident and shied from nothing. No, he said, he has no intentions of running for governor. It is something he and his wife have discussed. He says he is happy right where he is. What impressed me most is that he did not appear dogmatic. I could tell he wasn’t sold on a number of things that have been Donald Trumpeted since the campaign last year, and the first one hundred days of this presidency. But Graves is someone who appears to be driven by the potential for compromise, and we can’t have enough of that right now. I look forward to our next meeting. And I’ll be watching. I am sure we all will.