"These hot button issues are so distracting," she says, shaking her head and rolling her eyes in agitation. "I really hope they don't turn the process upside down."
After five previous legislative sessions as governor, Blanco seems to realize there is very little she can do to control the Legislature. In her opening speech, she told lawmakers to "have at it," be partisan and bicker all they want ' just make sure the work of the state gets done.
And she won't let legislators take unnecessary bites out of her proposed $20.7 billion budget to do it. Some lawmakers are putting on a full-court press to resurrect the controversial urban and rural slush funds. Before being abolished, partly by Blanco, the funds were traditionally used by governors to dole out cash to select lawmakers for pet projects. Blanco has line-item veto authority and says any move to restore the funds will be squashed.
"I will stand my ground on that," she declares. "Legislators cannot just dial up anytime they want and send money somewhere."
Democratic Rep. Francis Thompson from Delhi has vowed to carry out the mission and restore the funds personally. Maybe that's why Blanco singled him out during her opening speech when she announced the state would purchase 1,400 acres along Interstate 20 in Richland Parish for economic development.
"Before you jump to conclusions, let me quickly reassure you that Francis Thompson does not own the land," she remarked with a chuckle, referring to the state representative's penchant for supporting projects he has a financial interest in, like his hometown Poverty Point Reservoir.
The offensive and defensive budget maneuvers have also begun over increased teacher pay, a campaign promise Blanco made and attempted to enact in a pre-Katrina and Rita session. This time, the governor has proposed a $1,500 annual raise for Louisiana's estimated 59,000 certified teachers ' a total investment of $105 million.
"The proposal is both fiscally and educationally sound," Blanco says. "Our teachers are among the lowest paid in the region and in the country. This is simply not conducive to long-term progress in education. After all, student performance is directly linked to quality teachers."
Opponents argue it's a political move aimed at satisfying one of Blanco's political bases. Others contend the money could be better utilized elsewhere, such as in the charity hospital system. The governor waves off the notion.
"Every year they say they don't have enough money," Blanco says. "We are redesigning the system, and you can rest assured that health care will be taken care of."
Overall, the budget is bigger than ever, swelling to $1.6 billion more than the spending plan approved last year. Blanco says that's due to the monstrous sums of federal relief cash flowing into state coffers and isn't being lulled into a false sense of security. Her staff is looking into options such as placing the federal monies into another account or earmarking it separately.
Other big-ticket moves Blanco is pushing: consolidating New Orleans government, a concept that faltered during the February special session; expanding and re-training Louisiana's workforce through a $15 million program; and an unexpected piece of legislation that could offer a compromise to the controversial issue of legacy sites polluted by oil companies.
The governor's most significant battle could be how she interacts with lawmakers ' a sore spot for her administration. In the most recent special session in February, Blanco encountered resistance. Some lawmakers staged walk-outs, and her own leadership voted against a few of Blanco's priorities. It was a far cry from the governor's first legislative session, when Blanco earned the nickname Queen Bee after she stripped Rep. Troy Hebert of his chairmanship of the House Insurance Committee.
"The difference was this time they came and told me early on why they had disagreements," Blanco says. "And I'm going to let them represent their people the way they want to."
In her opening speech to the Legislature last week, Blanco struck a different tone with lawmakers. She joked with them in a familiar way and drew a firm line in the sand on certain topics. For instance, Blanco made it clear ' in very certain terms ' that she would veto any and all measures to expand gambling: "I want to reiterate my position on that: No. And if I'm not clear: Veto."
Her new attitude and approach is unproven, but a regular session brimming with hot issues is a perfect place to try out the strategy. If nothing else, the governor says the alterations should ease the transition the state faces.
"I was trying to strike a different tone," Blanco says of her session speech and staff changes. "I wanted to spark some humor. I've put [lawmakers] through a couple of intense special sessions, and we had some serious things to take care of. It was time to transition. There's a yearning in the public, and in the body, for a sense of normalcy. It will help speed up recovery."
Mike Harson's coffers show the advantage of incumbency.
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will vote on an ordinance for final adoption Tuesday that, if approved, would give the city the green light to take over a stretch of Verot School Road from the state Department of Transportation and Development.
The Louisiana Association of Educators filed a lawsuit challenging the $60 million in spending through Louisiana's public school financing formula.
He's been out of office for nearly a decade, but former U.S. Sen. John Breaux is back on the campaign trail, urging voters to support his one-time colleague, Democrat Mary Landrieu.
The unresolved fate of the ashes left behind after Ebola waste was destroyed in Texas highlights the problem U.S. hospitals and communities could face in disposing of their own waste.
While much of the talk was about whether New Orleans could win a big game — or any game, for that matter — on the road, the conversation in the Saints' locker room was about something completely different.
State health officials told thousands of doctors planning to attend a tropical diseases meeting this weekend in New Orleans to stay away if they have been to certain African countries or have had contact with an Ebola patient in the last 21 days.
Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama's deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.
Compared to the rest of the country, Lafayette has it pretty good when it comes to the cost and speed of our Internet.
Hello Kitty turns 40; police ambush suspect caught; Knicks surprise Cavs and more national and international news for Friday, October 31, 2014.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
The Lafayette City-Parish Council will consider on Tuesday a revised plan to the transform a block in Downtown Lafayette into a mixed-use residential-retail-commercial development that doesn’t include giving title to the property to the Lafayette Public Trust Finance Authority, an arrangement the council rejected earlier this month.
Trying to combat the national undertones of Louisiana's U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu is traveling the state this week on a sort of pork celebration tour, telling voters about the projects and aid she's delivered to Louisiana.
Ever thought that big, pink Gulf coast shrimp you ordered at the restaurant or bought from the store didn't taste juicy or salty enough? Maybe it wasn't from the Gulf.
The state treasurer won't sign financial documents needed for $200 million in borrowing or for a refinancing of existing debt until he believes they accurately explain the surplus disagreement.
Bill Cassidy voted for 97 percent of the bills signed by Barack Obama.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is joining South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on her campaign bus tour.
A New Iberia man has been sentenced to life in prison for killing a 4-year-old girl and scalding her 3-year-old brother.
A district judge decided Wednesday against sanctioning attorney/school board candidate Dawn Morris for her behind-the-scenes role in a lawsuit against Mark Cockerham.
Secretary of State Tom Schedler says Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration may have improperly destroyed records in the state employee health insurance program, in the middle of a heavily-criticized rewrite of benefit plans.
Paper cites the former ADA's "experience as a prosecutor, his demonstrated integrity, and his ideas for reshaping the [DA's] office" in urging voters to support Keith Stutes Nov. 4.
Louisiana officials have sent a letter to the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene un-inviting members of the group who have recently been to ebola-affected West African countries from attending the group’s annual conference in New Orleans next week.
Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints have to find a way to win on the road if they plan to take over first place in the NFC South.
"It is obvious that Louisiana economic performance has not outperformed the South or the United States as a whole and, in fact, has substantially underperformed..."
A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.