Unlike Mike Foster, who rarely surfaces since he left the governor’s office, former Gov. Kathleen Blanco is out there shaking the political bushes. She was practically front and center on Nov. 4, standing on stage alongside fellow Democrat Mary Landrieu as the state’s senior U.S. senator won a third term. The two women are longtime friends, so it’s understandable that Blanco would be there.
A few days later, Blanco issued a press release praising President-elect Barack Obama for his choice of U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois as White House chief of staff. Blanco, even in her post-gubernatorial life, still has a spokeswoman, Aprill Springfield, who has issued three other press releases this year on behalf of Louisiana’s first woman governor. The earlier releases were quick hits that focused on state issues and speaking engagements. Now, all of a sudden, Blanco is interested in federal matters.
“Congressman Emanuel is a no-nonsense individual who took a personal interest in Louisiana’s problems,” Blanco says in the latest release. “He was an important player who helped Louisiana’s citizens and communities secure a wide range of assistance.”
For all you conspiracy theorists, there might be another reason Blanco is shilling for national Democrats. Speculation has it that Blanco’s husband, Raymond “Coach” Blanco, a wily political strategist in his own right, is putting out feelers about the 2010 re-election campaign of U.S. Sen. David Vitter. The junior senator, a Republican, may be vulnerable after being linked to a prostitution scandal. State and national Democrats are looking for a good candidate to challenge Vitter.
Congressman Charlie Melancon of Napoleonville months ago expressed interest in running, but lately he is said to be leaning against the idea. Melancon turned 61 last month and is seriously pondering his future. He still plans to make an announcement in January. “Right now there are no other plans aside from re-election. I’m really happy with the job I have,” says Melancon, adding that his influence in the House is growing, and recent power rankings show him leading the state delegation in the lower chamber.
Another name that has surfaced recently is that of Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard, who supported Blanco for governor and briefly served as state Democratic Party chair during her tenure. Sources close to Bernhard say he is eagerly testing the waters and has even met with some Beltway Democratic bigwigs about challenging Vitter.
So where does that leave Blanco?
Neither the former governor nor any member of her team offered a comment for this story, but sources close to her suggest Coach may have been acting independently. That would fit his persona. Additionally, Kathleen Blanco has told reporters repeatedly in the past that she has no interest in living in Washington, D.C. Still, a comeback for the woman often blamed for the federal flubbing of Katrina’s aftermath could have an appeal all its own.
The former governor seems much more energized after stepping away from the limelight for a while, no longer willing to let people take cheap shots at her without responding. She even phoned into conservative radio talk show host Moon Griffon’s program a few weeks ago after one of his callers started ranting about her handling of Hurricane Katrina, mainly the highly publicized battle with President Bush over control of the National Guard. After Blanco made her case, the belligerent Griffon — who’s long been one of her harshest critics — sounded like he’d been swayed, thanking her for her call and saying he understood the situation better after hearing her side.
Blanco’s Republican successor, Gov. Bobby Jindal has a more discernable game plan, although he’s playing it coy. When it comes to a possible run for the GOP nomination for president, Jindal says it’s his “intent” to run for re-election as governor in 2011. No one is listening to him, though. According to a search on Google News, the terms “Bobby Jindal” and “president” appeared in more than 1,200 news items from Nov. 1 to Nov. 11 — averaging some 109 news stories nationwide per day. We’re talking about mentions in monstrous publications such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as small dailies like the Pioneer Press in Saint Paul, Minn., and Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg, Va.
There were also just as many blog posts during the same period, based on a similar Google search. All the attention is a political coup for Jindal, and it shows no signs of waning. Jindal will be in Iowa this month, an important early caucus state, to deliver a speech to the Family Policy Center, a prominent Christian conservative group. In addition, he recently made a strategic — and very interesting — hire.
Kyle Plotkin, a New Jersey native, is Jindal’s new press secretary. He replaces Melissa Sellers, who has been promoted to communications director. Plotkin was plucked from the failed U.S. Senate campaign of GOP state Treasurer John Kennedy, where he served as deputy communications director. But it’s Plotkin’s earlier experience that adds value to his hire. Plotkin knows the national circuit and worked on the recent presidential campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as a senior analyst.
Plotkin has also built up some solid relationships in Louisiana, even among Democrats. “Over the course of the past year I have come to know Kyle and know him to be a smart and extremely capable press secretary with a very good sense of humor. Regardless of his presidential ambitions, the governor is fortunate to have a press secretary of Kyle’s caliber on his team,” says Brian Walsh, spokesman for the Louisiana Democratic Party’s coordinated campaign, Louisiana Victory. “And I’m personally glad that Kyle has chosen to remain here in Louisiana during this exciting time in our state’s history.”
As for how Jindal grabbed the American political limelight, recent revelations speak volumes. The Washington Post’s Politics Blog reported last week that Jindal was not even vetted as a potential vice presidential pick. Reporter Chris Cillizza bases the report on information passed to him by “sources close to the Pelican State chief executive.” The non-vetting was not a snub of Jindal by GOP nominee John McCain, however. Rather, it appears to have been more of a slight by Jindal of McCain. The blog post alleges that Jindal declined to be vetted because his handlers feared he would “be caught up in what they believed to be a less-than-stellar campaign that could pin a loss on Jindal without much ability to change or control the direction of the contest.”
Such a strategy would allow Jindal to shoot for the 2012 presidential nomination with no 2008 baggage, although he continues to say that re-election is his “intent.” Truth is, he could run for re-election and still enter the 2012 primaries at the last minute, but strategists wonder if such a move would benefit Jindal’s national profile. A bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010, however, could aid Jindal in that area — but he would have to run against incumbent junior Sen. Vitter, a fellow Republican for whom the governor is raising money these days.
Of course, if Barack Obama sustains his approval ratings, any Republican candidate in 2012 would be a sacrificial lamb — or the presumptive frontrunner in 2016. That may be the year that Jindal is aiming for, possibly taking a brief detour to challenge Landrieu (if she runs again) in 2014. For now, Jindal holds all of his political cards. If the latest reports about his handling of the V-P process are true, his game plan for the coming years will likely be a closely guarded secret. So let the speculation begin, or rather continue.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
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There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.