January 30, 2006

CHANGING THE NATURAL ORDER:

Last year’s record hurricane season didn’t just change life for humans. It changed nature, too.

Everywhere scientists look, they see disrupted patterns in and along the Gulf of Mexico. Coral reefs, flocks of sea birds, crab- and shrimp-filled meadows and dune-crowned beaches were wrapped up in _ and altered by _ the force of hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Dennis.

“Nothing’s been like this,” said Abby Sallenger, a U.S. Geological Survey oceanographer, during a recent flight over the northern Gulf Coast to study shoreline changes.

The political landscape seems to have been reshaped, too:

“I think the most polite term that you can use is disarray,” said Elliott Stonecipher, a Louisiana pollster and political analyst. “The party apparatus seems to have taken a knockdown, if not a knockout punch.”

The last party chairman, Jim Bernhard, resigned less than three weeks after Katrina roared ashore Aug. 29, nine months into the job.

Bernhard said he needed to focus on his engineering and construction company, The Shaw Group Inc., but critics said he needed to resign to avoid allegations of favoritism as Shaw received millions of dollars in post-hurricane rebuilding contracts.

Bernhard had replaced Mike Skinner, a former U.S. attorney who left the chairmanship after a series of disappointments in the 2004 congressional elections, including the election of Republican David Vitter to the U.S. Senate.

On paper, the party is still dominant, with about 1.6 million Democratic voters in Louisiana to 694,000 Republicans, according to January voter registration numbers from the secretary of state’s office. About 600,000 are registered with other party affiliations.

However, Democratic voter rolls are shrinking while the number of registered Republications has grown in recent years.

Actually, the problems seem to precede Katrina.