Obama picks 'Son of the Gulf' Ray Mabus to lead restoration

McClatchy NewspapersJune 16, 2010 

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's selection of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, as his go-to person in charge of developing a long-term Gulf Coast restoration plan won widespread praise Wednesday.

While details are sketchy, the selection of Mabus, which Obama announced Tuesday night in an Oval Office speech to the nation, is meant to quell rising unease, especially on the Gulf Coast, about the government's response to the eight-week-old oil spill.

Describing Mabus as a "son of the Gulf," Obama said, "the plan will be designed by states, local communities, tribes, fishermen, businesses, conservationists, and other Gulf residents."

"I think it's great," said Louie Miller, the Sierra Club's Mississippi director, who's been a vocal critic of the cleanup. "I think he is an excellent choice: He's not a good old boy; he can work across party lines, which he'll have to, and he is a credentialed guy."

"He brings to the table an understanding of Southern culture and an ability to use connections he already has," added Miller. "He'll be able to hit the ground running."

Exactly what the process or timeline will be for Gulf Coast restoration, however. A spokeswoman for Mabus said only that he wasn't granting interviews.

Observers think that Mabus, a Democrat who was governor from 1988 to 1992, will quickly take control.

"Mabus brings administrative skills and political heft to the position," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a policy organization in Arlington, Va. "He has turned out to be an effective team player in the Obama administration."

Mabus also was a popular choice among lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

"I think the selection of Secretary Mabus to develop a long-term Gulf Coast restoration plan is a good decision," said Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss. "He understands the economy, culture and dynamics of the region, and he knows the officials in the administration who can make the plan for restoration become a reality."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who's taken a high-profile position on the oil spill and cleanup, said, "The president's call for Gulf Coast restoration was music to our ears. We in Louisiana have been working on this for literally 20 years trying to get the country to understand that these are America's wetlands, not just Louisiana marshes. We need help and support."

"I fully support the president's appointment of Ray Mabus to help lead this effort," Landrieu said. "He is a friend and someone who understands the importance of restoring and protecting the Gulf Coast. We will be working closely with him every step of the way."

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said, "I look forward to working with Secretary Mabus as the commission investigates the recovery efforts on the Coast, and as he balances that work with his equally important role of leading our Navy during a time of war."

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