When coastal restoration was just beginning to catch on as an issue in the Legislature in the late 1990s, Sen. Reggie Dupre strapped a life preserver over his bulky frame, quite clumsily, from the Senate floor to show his colleagues the latest fashion from low-lying communities. As the millennium came to a close, Dupre underwent gastric bypass surgery and shed a few life-preserver sizes, but he continued to be a coastal floor leader for three governors.
According to sources close to the Terrebonne Parish Democrat, he will soon be dropping the Senate like he did all that weight and heading into the non-elected world. And he won’t be alone. At least three other state senators have left vacancies in as many months, and there’s another unfilled seat in the House.
After an unsuccessful bid for Acadiana’s 7th Congressional District, Sen. Don Cravins Jr., announced last week that’s he’s accepted a job with U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Bill Cassidy, meanwhile, has already been sworn into Congress after besting a packed field in Baton Rouge’s 6th Congressional District. Finally, in October, ex-Sen. Derrick Shepherd pled guilty to money laundering and has been replaced by state Rep. J.P Morrell, a fellow Crescent City Democrat whose own House seat is now up for grabs.
For a Legislature that’s barely a year old, it’s a lot of hustle and bustle. While some might want to chalk it up to the generational shift happening in Louisiana politics, or a revolving-door theory where elected power affords access to a stepping stone, each case is different.
As for Dupre, it’s the worst-kept secret in the bayou parishes area that he’s eyeing a regional levee director position that will soon open up. Administrative officials have been notified and a deal struck that will keep Dupre in his Senate seat at least until after the upcoming regular session. For Republicans, it could become a pick-up district, since there are GOP state representatives sure to make a run and the area has sporadic voting patterns.
Dupre is also term limited and will be out of an elected job in a few years. But why is Dupre leaving in the middle of his term? Veteran lobbyists suggest Dupre may be just the beginning as lawmakers weigh their current salaries (minus the hefty pay raise GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal vetoed last year) against the promises of private sector work or other opportunities.
Then there’s Cravins, the St. Landry Parish Democrat whose decision to leave public office for work on the Hill is a new one for observers. He told reporters last week that it was a chance to be a part of history, alongside incoming President Barack Obama. But fellow Democrat Landrieu could have ulterior motives. The political animosity between Landrieu and the Cravins clan goes back a generation, to Cravins’ father, who is now the mayor of Opelousas. And Landrieu surely knows that keeping your enemies closer than your friends is smart politics.
But it could also be argued that Junior was on his way out anyway, and his bid for the 7th Congressional District in 2008 was a last-ditch effort. The younger Cravins has been openly critical of the way the Louisiana Democratic Party treats African-American candidates. Moreover, a few senators recall a heated argument Cravins had with a senior member last year over how far an African-American politician can go in Louisiana. “It became pretty heated,” recalls one senator in the legislative leadership.
The departure of Dupre and Cravins leaves behind more than just memories, though. Dupre is chairman of the natural resources committee and Cravins chairs the insurance committee. That alone should spur a bit of musical chairs in the Senate in coming months as legislators grapple for the gavels.
In Baton Rouge, local attorney Dan Claitor is the latest to drop hints about the Senate District 16 seat, left vacant by Cassidy. Political consultant Laurinda Calongne and businessman Lee Domingue are the only two announced candidates in what’s shaping up to be an all-GOP field. Down in the Big Easy, Morrell will soon step into the Senate seat disgraced by Shepherd, leaving House District 97 wide open for a springtime throw-down. At the same time, Rep. Nick Lorusso, a New Orleans Republican, is expected to be called to active duty for one year as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves. Due to a constitutional amendment approved by voters last fall, Lorusso will be able to nominate at least three possible temporary replacements to the House and Governmental Affairs Committee. After public hearings by the committee, GOP Speaker Jim Tucker of Terrytown will appoint one of the nominees. It’ll be a proceeding the Legislature has never seen before in its long history and will officially be added to the list of “Ways to Become a Legislator.” Thankfully, there are still more ways for lawmakers to leave than there are for them to assume office
MAY 17 Here's a column from James Gill, this time in the Advocate. Gill, who has jumped ship from the Picayune, writes about the absurdity of dueling polls in this post. The numbers are so wildly different, it is obvious that both sides are "cooking the books," he writes. In particular, he looks at Sen. Mary Landrieu, and how her recent actions in DC have been received by those polled. Gill's acerbic, amusing prose is a welcome addition to a paper so conservative as to be occasionally lacking in personality.
MAY 17 Blogger Tom Aswell continues delivering bombshells about the state education department and Gov. Jindal's education "reform" efforts. In this post, he reports that students in the Shreveport area have been signed up for a charter school without their knowledge or consent. Most interesting to Aswell is how this Texas-based charter (with ties to GOP types) got the personal student information it has, if the students didn't give it.
MAY 17 This post by JR Ball in the Baton Rouge Business Report is an interesting tongue-in-cheek look at recent Baton Rouge economic development efforts. Among the items he examines is the idea that gaining a Costco makes BR a "world-class city." (Really? All you need is a different brand of Sam's? MK!) This effort, and other recent ones, are all built on the taxpayer's back, with tax zones, tax incentives and tax rebates, Ball writes.
MAY 17 Blogger CB Forgotston is critical of the legislature's reliance on a revenue-estimating committee's decision to include projected tax amnesty income in this year's forecast. That's a problem, CB posts, because the deadline for these people to pay their taxes is June 30, 2014. So when do you think these people who haven't paid taxes in years are going to pay their taxes? Surely not before June 30, and that means the money won't be there for this year's budget, he argues.
MAY 17 Here's an interesting blog out of California by a Hollywood writer, attorney and academic named Brian Alan Lane. He blogs about higher ed, and was a whistle-blower in a scandal over false credentials. In this post, he takes aim at LSU's new top dog, King Alexander. It's convoluted and a little confusing, but it sure makes Alexander a lot more interesting than he was yesterday.
MAY 17 Blogger Robert Mann writes about the LSU Board's refusal to allow Dr. Fred Cerise to testify before the legislature about Gov. Jindal's plan to close down all the state's charity hospitals and dump the poor on the private system. It's hard to imagine anyone more qualified than Cerise to testify about that, so why would anyone try to prevent him doing so? Mann thinks it is because the powers that be aren't interested in hearing any truth about the plan.
MAY 17 This post on the Louisiana Sinkhole Bugle, a blog that notes developments in the Bayou Corne and Jefferson Island salt domes, talks about a proposed expansion of the salt dome storage under Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. Residents are working against it for several reasons, including two biggies: the sinkhole disaster in Bayou Corne and the continuing, unexplained bubbling on the surface of the Lake.
MAY 17 NOLA police arrested more people Thursday accused of either being involved in the Mother's Day shooting or hiding the suspect afterward, this Gambit story reports. The NOLA police chief said he suspects the whole thing was gang-related and throws out a challenge to the gangs: he's got informants now, he says, and he knows a lot more than the gangs want him to know. The people who live in the neighborhoods terrorized by gangs are ready to talk, he says.
David Calhoun and Elizabeth “EB” Brooks are the first two employees of Lafayette Central Park Inc., the nonprofit charged with turning Lafayette Consolidated Government’s 100-acre Johnston Street Horse Farm property into a passive public park. Calhoun was named executive director, and Brooks is director of planning and design.
Is it a crime for citizens to photograph, video, or take notes of a police officer in the line of duty, or a right protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution? Locally, such activity, as witnessed recently, will at the very least result in a night spent behind bars.
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.