The struggle was never more evident than last week when Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin appeared before congressional committees asking for help to rebuild after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, in a series of speeches that each included a defense of the state.
With several members of Congress openly suggesting since Katrina that Louisiana isn't trustworthy enough to handle billions of dollars in disaster relief aid, Blanco pledged accountability in spending.
She said the state was hiring a nationally recognized accounting firm to review the flow of federal dollars through Louisiana and that she would hire another accounting firm to audit those first auditors.
"I want to emphasize that the financial affairs of Louisiana will be transparent and wide open. I believe that we will stand well to expected scrutiny by the public, the Congress and the media," she told a meeting of House subcommittees that oversee the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, FEMA and other agencies crucial to Louisiana's recovery.
"I expect to account for every single penny of federal money that is received by the state of Louisiana," she said.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin urged the lawmakers to Google his record.
"You will see that since I have been in office almost four years, my whole focus has been on reform of government, honesty and integrity," he said...
"All manner of ugly words have been used to describe us by people sitting in their ivory towers. We have moved a million miles, but our old reputation continues to haunt us," Blanco said earlier this month.
And Landrieu was particularly straightforward when he appeared before the U.S. House committees with Blanco and Nagin.
The lieutenant governor said Louisiana doesn't corner the market on public corruption, noting that seven states with members on those subcommittees had more public corruption convictions than his state did.
In a letter he submitted to the subcommittees, Landrieu said New York, Illinois and Florida have twice as many federal public corruption convictions than Louisiana, and California has three times as many.
He said in the past decade, governors of New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Arizona, Illinois, Ohio and Alabama all have been indicted - though he failed to mention that Louisiana's former four-term governor, Edwin Edwards, also is behind bars for a corruption scheme.
"I question the political tactics of basically 'kicking our state' while it is down," he wrote. "Now, we come to Congress - the voice of the American people to seek help. And yet, in the media, at the office water cooler, at the family dinner table and even in the hallways of the Capitol, we have been made to feel corrupt, selfish and unworthy of aid."
The problem is Louisiana officials have gone to jail over the years. One of its congressmen currently is under investigation. Federal prosecutors set up shop before the hurricanes in the Orleans Parish school board offices. Jefferson Parish judges have been convicted recently as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation...