Maiden Speech

March 6, 2008

Since being appointed to the U.S. Senate two months ago, I have spent nearly every day traveling our state, listening to the concerns of Mississippians and by working on legislative issues when in Washington.  And while I have stayed actively engaged in legislative hearings and meetings, I have observed the Senate tradition that calls for new members to refrain from joining in floor debate for a period of time. 

Today, I will go to the Senate floor to rekindle a debate that has largely fallen quiet.  I will deliver my maiden speech on the topic of Gulf Coast recovery.  Senators have historically reserved their maiden speech to discuss issues that are of great importance to them, and I plan to do the same.  I will use this unique opportunity to tell my colleagues that while Hurricane Katrina may have passed, the federal government’s responsibility to help rebuild the Gulf Coast has not. 

For most Americans, Katrina was a horrific event that unfolded on television screens in the safety of living rooms far from the eye of the storm.  Although we are forever grateful for the generosity of so many that stood by our side during the darkest days after the storm, the most vivid memories of Katrina for many Americans came only from news stories.

The reality is that two and a half years later, too many of our neighbors on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast are struggling to return to the life they knew before Katrina.  For example, in Hancock County, the property tax base is decimated and basic government operations are still run out of trailers.  Hancock County has no jail, and its mayors, supervisors and other community leaders have been forced to rethink economic development and planning strategies because new FEMA flood maps have made rebuilding next to impossible in many areas. 

I view these challenges facing the Gulf Coast as opportunities for action.  South Mississippi is not just recovering; it is rebuilding.  And together, we will build it back bigger and better than before. 

The most urgent issue facing Mississippi’s Gulf Coast is the cost of insurance.  I have seen firsthand what the lack of affordable insurance has done by forcing families from homes and crippling the efforts of small businesses.  We must find a solution that allows people to purchase an affordable insurance policy that includes protection from both wind and water damage.  While serving in the House of Representatives, I supported Rep. Gene Taylor’s multiple-perils legislation that would achieve this goal, and I am committed to passing it in the Senate. 

Another key initiative to help spur rebuilding is the extension of tax incentives included in the GO Zone legislation.  These important provisions offer incentives for businesses and homeowners to rebuild.  During my time in South Mississippi, I have talked with countless families and small business owners who realize how important these provisions are to continuing economic growth.  Senator Thad Cochran and I are working with our Louisiana colleagues to advance this legislation. 

We must also reduce bureaucratic red tape, which is slowing the progress of affordable housing initiatives.  More funding is also needed in other important areas, such as environmental restoration of the barrier islands off our coast.  These islands act as a first line of defense against threatening storms, and we need to provide the funding to restore them.  

In the days and weeks that followed Katrina, people of all stripes joined to help one another.  Those moments of unity created a spirit that helped so many of our friends and neighbors get through difficult times.  It is in that spirit that I hope to continue working with the people of South Mississippi in addressing the challenges that lie ahead.