After two bitterly fought elections, first to capture a seat in Congress in 2004 and then to keep it in 2006, Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon can finally phone one in. He’s unchallenged this year, a privilege for which most politicians would pay a premium. In fact, Melancon is Louisiana’s only incumbent congressman not facing an opponent this fall.
That’s quite a feat, bearing in mind that the Third Congressional District spans 13 parishes from Iberia to St. Bernard. After taking two shots at Melancon and the seat, the state GOP couldn’t find a single credible candidate to run against him from that huge swath of conservatism. “And I think that’s odd, because there really are a lot of good Republican candidates in the district,” says former state Rep. Sydney Mae Durand, a Democrat with deep ties in the Acadiana portion of Melancon’s district. “This state is fast becoming a two-party state, and I don’t understand why the Republicans would let this one slip by. The only thing I can think is that Melancon has done a decent job in the voters’ eyes.”
Joshua Stockley, former president of the Louisiana Political Science Association and professor of government at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, part of the bayou parishes hub in the other part of Melancon’s district, agrees. It’s possible that Melancon escaped a challenge not due to a lack of viable Republican candidates but rather because of the “power of incumbency” and the perks that go with it.
“Four years ago, he beat Billy Tauzin Jr., whose father held the seat before him. Then two years ago, he beat (former state Sen.) Craig Romero, another Republican who was well-financed,” says Stockley. “Considering Melancon won under those circumstances, I don’t think the Republican Party wanted to spend money or time on him this go around.”
Whatever the reason, Melancon says he’s “pleased not to be knocking on doors and making phone calls asking for money for the next few months. He has $1 million in his campaign war chest and can sit on it until 2010, when he faces re-election — if he runs for re-election. U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Republican, has to stand for re-election in two years. The still-fresh revelation of Vitter’s connections to a Beltway prostitution ring run by the late “D.C. Madam” makes him vulnerable, and Melancon’s name is frequently mentioned as a viable Democratic challenger. “I’m a member of the House of Representatives, and I want to get through this election cycle. But I would be lying to you if I didn’t say I’ll be thinking about it later,” Melancon says. “I plan on sitting down with my family, having a discussion and making a decision sometime in January.”
Many Democrats feel Melancon is their perfect candidate against a seriously weakened Vitter. Right out of the blocks, he could cut deeply into a key demographic that helped put Vitter over the top in 2004 — Cajuns. In a head-to-head match-up, Melancon wouldn’t even be a philosophical stretch for most Acadians; his moderate-to-conservative credentials make him an easy vote in his home base — and the Democratic party label will give him all the help he needs against Vitter in urban precincts, particularly the New Orleans area. Against Vitter, he would even appeal to suburban moderates.
Making a run for the Senate, however, means sacrificing the momentum gained in the House. Melancon has an influential voice on the House Science and Technology Committee. The panel oversees NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, which is one of the state’s crown jewels in an otherwise sparse southeast Louisiana manufacturing sector. The committee also puts Melancon on the cusp of innovative legislation for hybrid vehicles, a topic that’s sure to become hotter as gas prices soar.
Melancon also sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which seems as though it was created with Louisiana in mind, given its oversight of oil and gas matters. The committee has been known to grab international headlines via hearings on trade, health and telecommunications. Melancon’s predecessor, Republican Billy Tauzin Sr., chaired the committee and used his position to become one of the most powerful people in Congress. Hypothetically, Melancon could do the same down the road — if he stays in the House.
For now, he has a greater interest in getting “PLUs” elected to the House. He says the acronym stands for “People Like Us.” More specifically, he means fiscally conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats like himself. Earlier this year, Melancon’s campaign sunk more than $8,000 into the victorious and highly competitive campaign of Mississippi Democrat Travis W. Childers. Another $4,000 was gifted to the campaign of Don Cazayoux, a fellow Louisiana Democrat who represents the Baton Rouge region. Both men were chosen during special elections and must run again this fall. “I’ll be involved again to the extent that they need me,” Melancon says, adding that his place on the bench will give the national party an opportunity to spread more resources around to Cazayoux and other Louisiana Democrats on the fall ballot.
With no campaign to run, Melancon has time to cozy up to Party congressional leaders. This past weekend, he led Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, a Democrat from South Carolina, and other members of the House leadership on a tour of the Gulf Coast to gauge the progress since hurricanes Katrina and Rita made landfall three years ago. Melancon also is working on legislation that would give the federal government authority to detect, prevent and punish price manipulators and speculators who trade U.S. crude oil on foreign commodity exchanges. What he won’t be doing is asking the voters of the Third Congressional District for another term; for now, he already has it.
“I can’t help but feel optimistic right now,” Melancon says. “I’m where I want to be."
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.
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.