BARHAM STATE'S TOP SPORTSMAN Term-limited state Sen. Robert Barham will serve as the next secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal announced last week. On paper, Barham's credentials appear to be a good match. Aside from being a Republican like Jindal, he previously chaired the powerful Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee and is currently a member of the Senate panel that oversees practically all wildlife and fisheries issues.

But geography, more than anything else, likely factored into Jindal's decision, especially since a roar of dissatisfaction has erupted in north Louisiana due to the governor-elect's numerous appointments from the southern part of the state. As for Barham, even though he's from the piney woods of Morehouse Parish, he was mentored in part by late Terrebonne Parish Sen. Claude B. Duval, and spent childhood summers at the Duval family home in Houma. "I spent a lot of time over near Last Island growing up, and I still feel like Terrebonne Parish is my second home," Barham says. "Even though I might be a redneck, I've always had a real affection for the coast."

Barham was among the very few north Louisiana lawmakers who took an interest in coastal-related issues in recent years, even personally sponsoring legislation with others from the bayou regions. As the new department secretary, Barham says that passion will continue and he plans to focus on challenges in the coastal zone in his first days. "That's something I really want to sit down and figure out with the governor," he says. "We have a lot of challenges."

Barham believes foreign imports will continue to be a hurdle to commercial fisheries and fresh approaches may be needed in the future. He also notes that recreational interests still need help recovering from the 2005 storms. "I'm hoping that the [recreational versus commercial fishing] debate doesn't become a line in the sand, and it's something I plan on paying attention to," he says. ... FOLLOWING FLORIDA'S LEAD With everything Louisiana and Florida have in common in regards to insurance challenges and hurricanes, it came as little surprise when Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal hosted Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for an in-depth meeting on the issues. Jindal says he was particularly interested in the need for a national catastrophic insurance plan, and the way Florida has addressed similar problems that Louisiana is now facing.

Dan Juneau, president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, says the odds are probably long against such legislation passing, but it's a reasonable project for the governor and the governor-elect to be pursuing. "Aside from the national catastrophe fund, one would hope that Gov.-elect Jindal doesn't follow Gov. Crist's lead in how to handle a property insurance crisis," he adds, noting the system in Florida that forces insurers to write coverage and creates unfunded liability for the state in the billions.

Lawmakers are also paying close attention to Florida. Earlier this year, a group of legislators from south Louisiana traveled to Florida on a "fact-finding" mission. Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Terrebonne Parish Democrat who attended the taxpayer-funded trip to Tallahassee, says two days were spent meeting with Florida lawmakers and insurance representatives. The key meeting was held with Florida Sen. Bill Posey, a Republican who recently sponsored the state's far-reaching insurance reform program.

Posey guided legislation that lowered rates for homeowners. It came as welcome relief to the hurricane-prone state, but Floridians will only continue to enjoy the decreases if the state doesn't see another devastating storm. At that point, premiums on homes and cars would rise as the state deals with mountains of claims through its insurer of last resort. Many lawmakers correctly predict that insurers in Louisiana might not want to buy into the whole plan, but bits and pieces of it may surface during the upcoming regular session. ... GOP LEGISLATIVE LEADERS, DELEGATES PREPPED With Rep. Jim Tucker of Algiers seemingly headed for the speaker's seat and a new term kicking off next year, the Republican Delegation has selected its next legislative leaders. Rep. Jane Smith of Bossier City and Sen.-elect Danny Martiny of Kenner will serve as co-chairs of the delegation over the next four years. The Republican Delegation has its strongest presence yet in the Louisiana Legislature with 66 total combined members ' 50 members in the House and 16 in the Senate. Both are historical highs since the delegation's inception in 1984.

Louisiana's Republican voters will head to the polls on Jan. 22 at 11 different caucus sites to cast their ballots for delegates and alternate delegates. Louisiana will have a total of 47 delegates and 44 alternates attend the national convention in Minneapolis next year. Local Republicans from Lafayette, Evangeline, St. Landry, Vermilion, Acadia, St. Martin and Iberia parishes can cast votes in Lafayette on Tuesday, Jan. 22 from 5 p.m until 8 p.m. at the Family Church (223 Stone Ave.).

Under RNC Rules, Chairman Roger F. Villere Jr., National Committeeman Ross Little Jr. and National Committeewoman Kay Kellogg Katz serve as automatic national convention delegates. ... MORE ELECTION CHANGES? Although poll workers received a pay increase during the regular session this year, some are still stirring about the long, sometimes unproductive hours they have to work. They're taking their grievances directly to the top, requesting Secretary of State Jay Dardenne make a push for fewer hours in the 2008 regular session.

Mick McIlwain, a poll commissioner in New Orleans, contends that even though the polls are open 14 hours (from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.), commissioners are on duty for at least 15 hours setting up machines and performing other duties. "My experience is that there is very little voter turnout during the first and last hours of voting, and those voting at those times could easily vote during the reduced voting hours," he says. "In my opinion, the long hours required are the main problem in recruiting new commissioners. A change is long overdue."

Earlier this year, commissioners-in-charge saw their pay jump from $150 to $250 per day, while other workers either saw their pay of $50 or $100 double.

Contributor: Jeremy Alford

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