Gun for Hire
Political consultant Roy Fletcher calls Baton Rouge home, but his gun-for-hire business has taken him to campaign trails across the country. Like James Carville, his former cohort at the legendary Louisiana political consulting firm of Weill, Strother and East, Fletcher handles candidates and issues on the local and national levels. He was on the winning side of two gubernatorial campaigns for Mike Foster. Other Fletcher candidates lost to President Bush in 2000, Gov. Blanco in 2003 and U.S. Sen. David Vitter in 2004.

Unlike Carville, Fletcher works both sides of the political fence, representing Democrats and Republicans. Fletcher clients have included John McCain, Mike Foster, Buddy Leach and Louisiana State Treasurer John N. Kennedy. His latest mission was a successful effort to shoot down Gov. Blanco's proposed dollar per pack increase on cigarettes.

The veteran of hundreds of campaigns admits his motivation for accepting the anti-tobacco tax mission: "The question to me is the price," Fletcher says with a smile. "I'm not going to lie about it. I operate off the greed factor. My greed." When reminded that foes might call him a prostitute, Fletcher dryly asserts, "I know who I am."

Some of Gov. Blanco's advocates blamed the well financed tobacco lobby for killing the tax, but Fletcher says smaller players made a difference in hiring him to frame a mass media message. "I never saw big tobacco," Fletcher says. "I saw the little guys who work on margins of 8 or 9 percent. People like the tobacco discount stores."

Fletcher managed to craft a deadly message to kill the governor's plan without speaking ill of the intended recipients of the tax, state teachers. Armed with a mathematical advantage that included 37 Republicans in the 105 member Louisiana House of Representatives, Fletcher pounded away at the suggested tax boost with ample funding from retailers from Lake Charles to Lake Providence.

"The argument was that this was needed for a teacher pay raise," Fletcher says with derision. "That was the first mistake in tying this cigarette tax to something that had nothing to do with smoking." Fletcher subscribes to the notion that connecting the tax to health care would have been more acceptable to lawmakers and voters.

Fletcher smiles at his flexibility on issues. Sometimes it is apparent he is a lawyer. Fletcher provides advice to a bevy of corporate clients, but some foes castigate him for allowing his substantial talents to be utilized by an industry that promotes an unhealthy addiction.

Fletcher is a smoker and insists the tax would have hurt people living on limited budgets. He chides Gov. Blanco for a proposal that he claims would have adversely affected her electoral base. "Why is it that Democrats always choose poor people when they decide to tax?" Fletcher opines as his hands flail emphatically. "A vast majority of smokers make below $25,000 a year. How about taxing somebody with money?"

Fletcher swings back into his 2003 campaign mode and begins to extol the virtues of an oil processing tax backed by then-gubernatorial candidate Buddy Leach. But the reality is that if Gov. Blanco couldn't secure 70 votes in the House for a cigarette tax, she certainly wouldn't have been able to get two-thirds of both chambers to back a tax on the state's most prominent industry.

With Blanco enduring a grueling session, the list of potential 2007 gubernatorial challengers grows, and it's a good bet that Roy Fletcher will resurface in two years as the adviser to a Blanco opponent. Blanco beat Buddy Leach two years ago to win round one; Fletcher has taken round two. The battle for teachers and taxes continues, and with the bell about to sound for round three, the fight continues between the queen of the Louisiana Capitol and the king of state political consultants.

HOUSE VOTES

Louisiana's U.S. House delegation has weighed in on some hot-button issues that could resurface during the 2006 election cycle. Most of the votes are along party lines. Here are a few examples.

Democrats Bill Jefferson and Charles Melancon voted to bar funding of a USA Patriot Act section under which police and intelligence agents, bearing secret warrants, can obtain library and bookstore records. Jefferson and Melancon were in the majority in a 238-187 tally. Voting for seizure of records in some cases were Republicans Charles Boustany, Jim McCrery, Bobby Jindal, Rodney Alexander and Richard Baker.

The state U.S. House delegation also voted along party lines on a Democratic bid for an independent commission to probe U.S. military treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Jefferson and Melancon voted to condemn attempts by evangelicals on the faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy to convert non-Christian cadets. Boustany, McCrery, Jindal and Alexander voted no on the measure while Baker was absent.

The votes show that party affiliation speaks volumes in Washington, but the record of the congressmen on divisive issues will matter most if a viable challenger emerges in their respective districts in 2006. With five of seven Louisiana U.S. members wearing the Republican label, the GOP is likely to target Melancon next year. The Napoleonville lawmaker narrowly edged Billy Tauzin III in last fall's Third District election. Melancon's votes will be inspected closely in the coming year, and demography dictates that his seat is vulnerable.

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