"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."
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.