One on one with Governor Perry

February 18, 2009 9:32:11 AM PST
We're getting straight talk from the governor about the government's response following Hurricane Ike. He spoke to Eyewitness News exclusively one-on-one about what he believes needs to be done to help the Texas coast recover. [SIGN UP: Get headlines and breaking news sent to you]

In several spots in Galveston, the road to recovery is a slow one. It's been five months since Ike devastated home and businesses along the coast. We caught up with Governor Perry last month as he toured the damaged and saw how much work needs to be done to get things back to normal.

"Frustrated or angry as you look at this?" we asked him.

"Both," he answered. "I am sort of multi-tasking on my emotions."

This was one his first walking tours of a damaged Galveston neighborhood since Ike.

"Four months since the storm, are you comfortable?"

"No, I am not happy at all," said Governor Perry. "The idea that the federal government has been that slow with being able to reimburse these local entities, even for something as simple as debris removal."

For blocks between 61st Street and Offatt's Bayou, there are still homes scattered as if Ike had just blown through. At the head of the block, there was a FEMA trailer that was just delivered two days earlier.

"Nuts, absolutely nuts," said Governor Perry. "The idea that we don't have any more temporary housing into Texas four months after the storm struck. I mean, if you needed a snapshot of how FEMA is broken, that's it."

Perry is quick to blame FMA for dragging its feet, preventing Galveston from getting back on its own.

"How much of that responsibility lies with you and the state of Texas and how much with the federal government?" we asked

"I think the state of Texas did an admirable job in not just this hurricane, but every one we had," he said. "We've gotten better every time."

Perry insists that in the early days of the storm, Texas got people out of the way of danger, handled search and rescue and delivered the first days of aid. The slowdown, he says, happened when FEMA got involved.

Next time, and there will be a next time, he wants FEMA out of the way.

"I would like to see FEMA get out of the delivery business," said Governor Perry. "Make it an oversight agency. Let them look over my shoulder. If I misspend money, let them hold my feet to the fire, but don't keep me from helping my people."

As recovery has dragged on, though, there are issues Perry needs to face. Thousands of Texans are complaining that the state's windstorm insurance isn't paying claims fast enough.

"We've got to fix that piece of legislation and tweak it up," said Governor Perry. "One of the things that happens when you tweak it up is basically put some real timelines. If you don't pay the claims in a certain time, here are the penalties."

And there is still uncertainty over what the state's plans are for UTMB.

"Can you promise me that so long as you're governor, UTMB won't close and will remain a medical school?" we asked.

"I think we're going to be working towards that," he answered. "I don't know what the timeline is. I think that's the issue. I know where you're trying to take me with your line of questioning, but the fact of the matter is I will do everything I can to get this community back in shape and have it have the centerpiece of its economy and that's what UTMB is. We understand that. What the timeline is, is the $64,000 question."

"I am not trying to trick you into anything, but there is great fear here that the regents not only want to reduce the size of the hospital, but want to take it to Austin," we said.

"There is a lot of fear because of what has happened here," he responded. "Don't let rumors drive the thought process. The state of Texas is going to be committed to getting this community back on its feet stronger than it was in the past."

That's easy to say, but harder to convince state lawmakers to find the hundreds of millions to fix the problems. There is some optimism. Fifteen state House members recently added strength to the idea of a disaster fund and fix windstorm insurance. UTMB is far thornier. This gives us a place to start, as we start our week of looking at what's ahead for Galveston.

You can see the entire interview with Governor Perry by clicking here.

Our Road to Recovery special reports continue tonight at 6 and 10pm on Eyewitness News, as Wayne Dolcefino returns to Bolivar Peninsula.

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