By Peter Savodnik - 11/08/05 12:00 AM EST
When the House voted in early September for a $1.4 billion relief bill for victims of Hurricane Katrina, Rep. John Hostettler (Ind.) was one of 11 Republicans to oppose it.
Yesterday, the congressman, who is facing a tight race next year, and several other Indiana members asked President Bush for money to help victims of another natural disaster — the tornado that ripped through many areas in his 8th District.
The congressman, Faraci said, voted against the hurricane measure because it included a provision making it easy, he said, for supposed do-gooders to pilfer federal funds. News reports that money has, in fact, been wasted bolster his case, Faraci said.
Faraci added that Hostettler would like to see federal funds spent helping victims of natural disasters — including those hurt by the tornado that swept through southwestern Indiana Sunday — so long as those dollars are not squandered.
“He was very supportive of giving assistance to people affected by Rita and Katrina,” Faraci said. “He was concerned that there were provisions in the bill that were open to abuse.”
Asked if yesterday’s letter to the president contains any safeguards to prevent similar abuse, Faraci said the letter “is just a disaster declaration in order to engage the normal federal processes.”
Democrats yesterday were reluctant to criticize Hostettler or appear as if they were trying to politicize the congressman’s positions on disaster relief.
Jay Howser, the campaign manager for Democrat Brad Ellsworth, who is challenging Hostettler next year, said that the campaign had already raised Hostettler’s Katrina vote and that now is not the time to bring the tornado, which killed 22, into the conversation.
“I just don’t want to go there right now,” Howser said. “We’re less than 24 hours from this happening.”
Howser said Ellsworth, the sheriff of hard-hit Vanderburgh County, spent yesterday assessing the damage. The county encompasses Evansville, one of the two population hubs in the 8th District. Howser said the county includes 25 percent of the voters in the district.
Mike Edmondson, executive director of the Indiana Democratic Party, added that Democrats would welcome any help anyone can provide to those hit by the tornado.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) declined to comment on the race. But privately, Democrats voiced disbelief and amusement with Hostettler, saying the fifth-term congressman would rather help tsunami victims halfway around the world and rebuild Iraq than aid poor Americans drenched by hurricanes.
One prominent Indiana Democratic source recalled: “It’s something that we were talking about when he made the first vote. What happens if something like this happens in our own back yard? And then it did.”
Ed Patru, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), dismissed parallels between Katrina and the recent tornado, which laid waste to portions of Kentucky as well as Indiana.
Patru noted that the scope of damage and requested relief in the Gulf Coast region was far greater than what happened and what is being sought for the tornado-stricken areas. He added that Hostettler’s opposition to the Katrina relief bill was consistent with his fiscal conservatism.
Democrats refused yesterday to discuss the possibility that they might use Hostettler’s voting record on disaster relief to beat him next year, even though they have already made a lot of noise about his opposition to the aid for Katrina’s victims.
Hostettler represents one of the few competitive districts in the country. He won his 2004 race by eight percentage points, although he was outspent by Democrat Jon Jennings by more than $1 million. He won his 2002 race by five points, spending less than $200,000 more than Democrat Bryan Hartke.
Hostettler raised $38,000 in the third quarter of the year, bringing his cash on hand to nearly $28,000. Ellsworth far outpaced the Republican, amassing more than $144,000 during the three-month period and ending with nearly $258,000 in the bank.
Ellsworth, with fellow Hoosier and former Rep. Baron Hill (D) in the neighboring 9th District, is one of 10 challengers featured on the DCCC website.
While Democrats say Ellsworth — as a centrist and a decorated law-enforcement officer — is suited to beat Hostettler, the district remains staunchly Republican; last year, 62 percent of voters backed President Bush over 38 percent for the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.).