WASHINGTON POST UNCOVERS QUESTIONABLE $2 MILLION LANDRIEU EARMARK The Washington Post gave the Louisiana Republican Party an early Christmas gift with a front-page investigative story on Dec. 20 that detailed U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's successful 2001 effort to shepherd a $2 million earmark into law that benefited a major campaign contributor. The $2 million was for literacy efforts for kindergartners and first-graders in Washington, D.C., but came with a stipulation: the money could only be spent on the Voyager Learning literacy program, which the Post described as "a new product with virtually no track record."

The Post reports that lobbyists arranged a meeting between Voyager reps and Landrieu, and shortly after the meeting, someone in Landrieu's office asked Voyager founder Randy Best if he would throw a fund-raiser for Landrieu. Best did just that in October 2001, and Voyager employees and relatives soon donated enough to Landrieu's coffers to put the company in the Top 20 of Landrieu donors, eclipsing corporations like BellSouth and Tenet Healthcare. Approximately four days after Landrieu hauled in close to $30,000 in Voyager contributions, she added the earmark amendment to a House bill, initially allocating $1 million but then waiving the matching money requirement to push the allotment to $2 million. Two weeks later, she secured $700,000 for Voyager to be tried in Louisiana.

On the public relations front, Landrieu didn't help her cause by declining interview requests from The Post, instead releasing a statement saying, "It is not uncommon for Members of Congress to receive contributions from individuals who support their policy goals." She also noted she has "long championed new approaches to improving children's education, leading the push for smarter public-private partnerships and for innovative programs like Voyager." ... SHAWN WILSON APPLYING FOR DISTRICT 3 SCHOOL BOARD SEAT Shawn Wilson has thrown his name in the ring to be considered for the District 3 school board seat being vacated by Rickey Hardy. Hardy was elected last month to the state Legislature and will be leaving his school board post at the start of the new year. The school board will vote on an interim replacement for Hardy at its Jan. 9 meeting. Wilson, who recently lost a runoff election for District 3's city-parish council seat, sent in his resume and cover letter late last week, asking the board to consider naming him as Hardy's successor.

Wilson decided to apply after talking with several supporters who encouraged him to stay publicly involved after his unsuccessful campaign for city-parish council. He also sees a need for new leadership on the board, given the poor perception and lack of trust in the school system evident in the recent debates over the closure of N.P. Moss Middle School. "Leadership isn't always sent; it's called," Wilson says. "I think my background offers something that should be considered, and if the board so desires, I'll be willing to accept that challenge."

Wilson, a 37-year-old Democrat, is currently serving as confidential assistant to Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry. Previously, he worked under Gov. Kathleen Blanco as a deputy director for legislative affairs and as executive director of the Louisiana Serve Commission during her term as lieutenant governor. Thus far, Wilson and retired Louisiana Technical College administrator Shelton Cobb, whom Hardy recently recommended, are the only two applicants for the District 3 school board seat. Like Wilson, Cobb also ran unsuccessfully for the District 3 city-parish council seat. Whomever the school board appoints to replace Hardy will serve through October, when a special election will be held for the seat.

Contributors: Scott Jordan and Nathan Stubbs

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