MINNEAPOLIS – Roger Villere Jr. is thinking about his wife and family he left behind in New Orleans, but the chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party says his national duty is to be here to nominate U.S. Sen. John McCain as president.“
“The whole thing is it’s so very important to what we’re doing,” said Villere, a New Orleans florist. “We’re going to nominate the next president and vice president of the United States. This is the process and there’s nothing in the rules to stop the process. We have to go through with it or there’s no mechanism to get our nominee, Sen. McCain, on the ballot.”
Hurricane Gustav is aiming for New Orleans, where Villere owns three florist shops and greenhouses. All were damaged three years ago from high winds of Hurricane Katrina when it struck the Crescent City.
Villere, of Metairie, La., in metropolitan New Orleans, said his wife, who helped oversee covering glass and putting delivery vans up on blocks Saturday to prepare for the storm, evacuated New Orleans today for northern Louisiana. A couple sons and his grandmother left Saturday to various locations in Arkansas and Tennessee. All of his 54 employees have evacuated. His stories shut down Saturday and will be closed through at least Wednesday. Because of the oncoming storm, only about 185 of Louisiana’s 240-member GOP delegation will make it here, Villere said. A couple delegates who arrived here went back as the storm intensified Saturday.Because of his smaller-than-expected delegation, Villere invited Oklahoma’s GOP delegation to join his group for food and fun at an establishment called GameWorks in downtown Minneapolis, near the Target Center.The Louisiana delegation had rented the second floor of the place, which featured video games, bowling and plenty of television sets tuned to baseball and college football games.
While the regular crowd hooted it up downstairs, a much quieter scene was upstairs. Dozens of Louisiana delegates were keeping track of Gustav through e-mails sent to their cell phones or by tracking the hurricane on the Internet with their cell phones.
Eventually, several TV sets were tuned to news stations so the group could keep up with the coverage.
Villere says he understands coverage of the hurricane will take away from the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to start Monday in nearby St. Paul.
“It will show that the Republican Party is on top of it, we’re prepared,” Villere said. “We’re accepting it, we’re not whining about it.”
McCain’s campaign staff has been in touch with all the GOP state chairmen and the chairmen from the Gulf Coast about what the situation is with the hurricane, Villere said. McCain also is interested in organizing some type of humanitarian aid effort and to raise money to help communities that would be devastated by the hurricane, he said.
Some Gulf Coast Republican governors, such as the governors of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida, are skipping the national convention to stay in their states as Gustav approaches, Villere said. And President Bush, who was expected to speak Monday night, now is considered unlikely to attend because of the hurricane.
-Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau