Ben Brooks, a lawyer and Republican state senator from coastal Alabama, says he's no fan of big government but he expects an aggressive federal response as a gunky oil spill threatens the Gulf of Mexico.
"There's nothing inherently contradictory in saying we believe in smaller government and demanding that the government protect public safety," Brooks said.
All along the Gulf Coast, where the tea party thrives and "socialism" is a common description for any government program, conservatives who usually denounce federal activism suddenly are clamoring for it.
Take Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican elected in 2007 when Democrat Kathleen Blanco opted not to seek re-election after she was widely panned for a bumbling response to Hurricane Katrina two years earlier.
Since April 20, when a gulf rig exploded and blew out an underwater oil well about 50 miles south of Louisiana, Jindal has been a constant presence in the fishing communities and barrier islands along his state's fragile coastline. He's been out on boats and up in Black Hawk helicopters, doors open, to survey the spreading, rust-colored swath of crude.
Jindal, a possible 2012 presidential candidate, has demanded a stronger response from the Obama administration, accusing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of dragging its feet in approving Louisiana's plans for protective berms -- a plan that took three weeks to approve.
"This oil threatens not only our coast and our wetlands, this oil fundamentally threatens our way of life in southeastern Louisiana," Jindal said last week.
Jindal is a fiscal conservative who made headlines last year by rejecting some federal stimulus money, then distributing other stimulus funds by handing out oversized cardboard checks to local officials.
Louisiana State University political science professor Kirby Goidel said Jindal's call for larger federal involvement in the oil spill management contradicts the governor's usual persona.
"He's governor largely because of Katrina," Goidel said. "He knows that it's important to get out on top of it and be clear if the federal government is not doing what it's supposed to do. It's important for people to know that."
Goidel said he's not surprised small-government conservatives would seek help from Washington in a disaster that threatens the Gulf's water quality and everything that depends on it, from the shrimping industry to tourism.
"I think it's a pretty predictable response: 'We've got a problem that's beyond our control. Get the federal government in here to take control,'" Goidel said.