With all the attention on Election '08, it's easy to forget that there are important elections underway in '07, such as state-wide contests in Mississippi, where the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is still being felt in state politics.

In primary elections this week, Mississippi Democrats drove out Insurance Commissioner James Dale, largely because of his failure to challenge widely-hated insurance companies after the storms:


 

Hurricane Katrina can be largely blamed for removing Dale from the office he has held for 32 years.

His acceptance of contributions from insurance companies he regulates and the perception from many Katrina victims that he wasn't fighting hard enough for them appeared to be key issues in the campaign.

But we can't ignore the advertising campaign largely financed by Dickie Scruggs' law firm that viciously attacked Dale and supported his Democratic challenger, Gary Anderson.

 

Hurricane Katrina is leaving its mark on the 2007 elections in other ways. During our recent trip to the Mississippi coast, we met with leaders from groups like Coastal Women for Change and the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance.

They reminded us that for many, the Mississippi coast is still a disaster zone, with people's minds focused on FEMA trailers, lost jobs and shatter lives. How does one even think about elections and politics when you're struggling for survival?

Ana Maria from the A.M in the Morning blog -- "dispatches from Katrina's ground zero" -- offers a moving first-hand perspective which reminds us of our country's failure to help the Gulf Coast recover:

Two days ago, Mississippi voters in the Democratic Primary ousted Insurance Commissioner George Dale, whose cozy relationship with Big Insurance became his electoral albatross. Surely less than a year ago, Dale anticipated his re-election bid to retain the normalcy he had experienced over the last three decades of running for office.

The campaigns for newly-elected Democratic nominee Gary Anderson and his Republican opponent will recuperate from the primary, then redirect their efforts for the usual hustle and bustle of a general election, which will be held this November. Even inside the chaotic nature of every election campaign, there is a sense of normalcy to that chaos -- at least for those of us who've been in a few.

Here inside the Katrina-ravaged region, we're still struggling to return to a sense of normalcy. At Katrina's ground zero, we still have Wal-Mart as our only grocery store for at least a 30 minute ride in any direction. Insurance companies continue to low ball, delay, and fight tooth and nail to break their legal contracts to pay on legitimate wind damage claims. Reliable, solid, and reasonably priced contractors to repair homes are still miraculous to find. FEMA continues to jerk around municipalities.

Jobs are scarce. More scarce are employees. More scarce still? Housing. [...]

A sense of normalcy. That is what everyone here yearns for. Anytime some small effort is put forth, all one has to do is take a drive down beach boulevard in Bay St. Louis and Waveland, Miss., then cross the bridge and continue down highway 90 from Pass Christian through Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs. The stairs leading to no where represent homes that have not been able to be rebuilt. Same with the slabs that are cleared of debris but overgrown with weeds. And the steel beams standing erect waiting for the walls to be returned to their pre-Katrina place.

For all of us here, a sense of pre-Katrina normalcy is long overdue.