Last week, Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal all but endorsed Sen. Joel Chaisson II, a Democrat from Destrehan, for the top Senate job, and it immediately became clear that Chaisson would in fact win the contest. It may have seemed ironic that Jindal, who rode into office atop a GOP wave, embraced a Senate president from the opposing party. Then again, even before last Saturday's runoff elections, Democrats had a lock on a majority of the seats in the Senate. Jindal's nod to Chaisson thus reflected political reality more than a soft spot for the opposition.
Moreover, Jindal had promised voters he would stay out of the Legislature's in-house elections but changed course because it became apparent that his vow was overly idealistic. Jindal now realizes that getting involved in the elections for Senate president and House speaker may be his only means of guaranteeing that his legislative agenda will be handled with care. The leadership sets the agendas and controls the flow of bills in each legislative chamber.
When he "confirmed" Chaisson's candidacy last week, Jindal explained that he was merely voicing the choice of an overwhelming number of senators with whom he had spoken. In confessing as much, Jindal revealed that he had actually been involved in the race long before accompanying Chaisson to last week's press conference. He had been taking calls and meetings, seeking advice from lawmakers and, in all likelihood, figuring out how to get involved without actually looking involved.
In some ways, Chaisson was a practical choice for Jindal. Democrats are guaranteed a majority of the Senate seats, regardless of the outcomes of last Saturday's runoff elections. And, if there's a Kennedyesque archetype in the Legislature, it is arguably Chaisson. A young-looking 47, the St. Charles Parish lawmaker and trial lawyer is an eloquent speaker who can become impassioned during heated debates ' yet he knows how not to make enemies. He comes from a politically prominent River Parishes family and has long had the chops for statewide office. He could be a very valuable ally for Jindal.
On the other hand, Chaisson comes with baggage for an ultra-conservative like Jindal. For starters, he isn't afraid to step on toes if it benefits his constituency. When the New Orleans Saints pulled out of an agreement in 2003 to house their training camp at Nicholls State University, Chaisson tried to anchor them in Thibodaux legislatively ' as long as they played in the Superdome. A veto from former Gov. Mike Foster nixed the ploy, and Chaisson described the ordeal as "disgusting."
Chaisson also was one of the loudest and most persuasive opponents of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages in Louisiana. At the time, he explained that he personally opposed gay and lesbian unions, but he argued that the amendment was overreaching and sent a negative message of discrimination to the rest of the nation and the world. While Chaisson's reasoning may have been OK with voters in his district, who re-elected him this year without opposition, it likely didn't endear him to Christian Right voters who helped Jindal become governor.
Then there's Chaisson's support for gaming. Since 2004, he has sponsored no less than a half-dozen bills related to gaming or video poker, ranging from legislation that increased enforcement to others that benefited the industry. By comparison, Jindal has promised to oppose any effort to expand gaming. Chaisson now says he is on the same page as Jindal, though that doesn't mean he has turned against gaming interests. Rather, it more likely means that those who are already in the gambling biz don't want to let anybody else in ' which is hunky dory with the anti-gambling crowd, too.
Meanwhile, in the House, Jindal is staying above the fray. For now. Most media accounts have placed GOP Caucus Chair Jim Tucker of Terrytown ahead of the pack. For his part, Tucker says he would welcome Jindal's support but contends he doesn't necessarily need it. "We're still working toward it and have a majority of oral commitments," Tucker says.
Tucker's candidacy is also being framed as a conservative balance to having a Democrat lead the Senate. Tucker's competitors, however, are not backing down.
The top tier names mentioned for House speaker include Democratic Reps. Don Cazayoux of New Roads; Karen Carter of New Orleans; Jim Fannin of Jonesboro; and Rick Gallot of Ruston. Rep. Hunter Greene of Baton Rouge is the only other Republican jockeying for the House gavel.
"Ever since the Senate did their thing, everyone is moving at warp speed over here, and I'm thinking that everyone will have their minds made up over the next week or so," says one longtime member of the House. "As far as Tucker, don't believe the hype. There's still a long way to go."
Elliott Stonecipher, a political analyst from Shreveport, says the same words of caution could be extended to Chaisson, although he is in better shape than Tucker heading into the Jan. 14 leadership elections, which will occur alongside Jindal's inauguration. "I think it's more difficult for Tucker now because there's increased attention on the governor-elect getting involved, and I think he will have to get involved," Stonecipher says. "But however and whenever he does, there will likely be some sort of pushback."
As of press time, Chaisson was the only sure thing going in the Legislature ' and he certainly knows what that entails. He has been a member of the Senate since 2000 and was a state representative for nine years before that. "My No. 1 objective will be to help this governor be a success and to help Louisiana turn things around and move in the right direction," Chaisson says. "We have a special session coming up in January, and it is extremely crucial that we pass some meaningful reforms and send a message to the nation that we are doing things a little differently."
This week, Chaisson says he will begin doling out committee assignments, although McPherson contends much of that task has already been accomplished, which is what gave Chaisson his lead in the Senate race. Already one appointment seems obvious: Chaisson will name Sen. Mike Michot of Lafayette, the GOP dean of the Upper Chamber, to chair the budget-reviewing Finance Committee.
"We're going to try to match people with their skills and talents," Chaisson says of the committee assignments. "I think people need to be put into positions where they know the subject matter and can help their districts the best. Most of all, we want to do it in a bipartisan fashion ' Republicans, Democrats, north, south, black, white. Everyone will be represented."
Chaisson supporters like Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Democrat from Bourg who hopes to chair the Natural Resources Committee, says Chaisson has always been keen on unlikely alliances. Dupre predicts more odd-coupling if Chaisson wins the January election for Senate president. "I think Joel has already proven through his time in the Senate that he can build a consensus, and that will be his strongest asset as president," Dupre says. "I think you're going to see a completely different Senate."
Local and state agents Thursday night raided The Keg, the popular college bar located in the area known as The Strip, leading to the (at least) temporary closure of the venue.
Here's your daily look at late-breaking national and international news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday, April 18, 2014:
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Time and time again, the Lafayette Parish School Board shows an overwhelming tendency toward idiocy, but Wednesday night’s contentious discussion over Northside High School’s teen mother program tops the list of dumb discussions.
“The accomplishment of this goal within the next ten years is not only critical for the region to effectively compete with other regions for residents and businesses, but also to provide an amenity for everyone in Acadiana to enjoy.”
Education Superintendent John White says a continued push to try to keep Louisiana from using tests associated with the Common Core education standards are creating "a state of chaos" for public school teachers.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to use $210 million in surplus and one-time money to help balance next year's budget received the backing Thursday of the State Bond Commission, support that was needed for the maneuver to work.
State wildlife and fisheries agents have arrested a 39-year-old man accused of stealing crawfish.
An East Feliciana Parish lawmaker has jettisoned his proposal to make it harder for a condemned prisoner to appeal a death sentence.
Senators advanced a proposal Wednesday that would let the governor remove New Orleans-area levee board members for violating what he considers to be public policy, despite concerns it would introduce political meddling into state flood protection.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution that if approved would clear the way for a December ballot proposition asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax parishwide to help fund the construction of a new terminal at Lafayette Regional Airport.
Just days before the fourth anniversary of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill, the Coast Guard has moved cleanup of Louisiana's coast to a new phase, allowing BP to end its "active" efforts in the area.
Legislators still must leave their guns at the door of the Louisiana Capitol.
Sen. Fred Mills may have an "R" behind his name, but his actions in the Louisiana Legislature transcend the established boundaries of his party.
The Louisiana House overwhelmingly rejected a repeal of the state's unconstitutional anti-sodomy law Tuesday.
The Louisiana Senate sided with Gov. Bobby Jindal and the oil industry Tuesday, agreeing to void a lawsuit that a south Louisiana flood board filed against more than 90 oil and gas companies for coastal damage.
Acadian rep notifies would-be supporters that an April 25 fundraiser for the embattled U.S. rep won’t go on as planned.
While it isn’t all too unusual for public bodies to have hired security present during meetings, the LPSB’s push to do so is arguably a response to the antics of one board member.
“I’m running. Why would I be raising all this money? Just to have to return it to people?”
With incumbent U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu watching from afar, and with a united Democratic Party in her corner, the fight to get the GOP officially behind Congressman Bill Cassidy is gaining just as much momentum as it is hushed controversy.
15th Judicial District Judge Durwood Conque has announced that he will not seek re-election after 27 years on the bench.
The controversial standardized tests are set to be used in third-grade through eighth-grade public school classrooms next year.
The Louisiana Senate has agreed to prohibit unmanned aircraft from flying over chemical plants, water treatment systems, telecommunications networks and other items considered "critical infrastructure" in Louisiana.
It didn’t take long for KATC TV 3 to jump all over the news of a dead body found in Girard Park, but in its rush to produce headlines, the local TV station got sloppy.
An unholy trinity of civil-society upheavalers whose first names are not Conner, Tanner or Logan are facing charges in Eunice.