By Jeremy Alford, Sarah Gamard and Mitch Rabalais
Members of Louisiana’s U.S. House delegation recently revealed their 2017 fundraising activities. They’re collectively sitting on $3.8 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.
It’s a notable milestone, with all six Bayou State representatives facing re-election this fall.
The standout from last year’s federal reporting period was Congressman Garret Graves of Baton Rouge, whose $1.4 million in the bank leads Louisiana’s congressional delegation.
He even outpaced U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Jefferson, who has $1 million in the bank. Last summer, Scalise and three other people were shot and wounded during a practice for the Republican team ahead of the annual congressional baseball game.
Graves also raised more money than his congressional colleagues in 2017, with $710,000 in contributions.
Trailing closely was Congressman Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, who has managed to leverage his new chairmanship of the Black Caucus to collect $656,000. Richmond is the only Democrat in the House delegation.
The big political story may belong to Congressman Ralph Abraham of Mangham, who’s said to be a potential candidate for the 2019 governor’s race. His $381,000 in donations and $282,000 in the bank may prompt some to wonder why he isn’t bulking up to transfer his federal dollars to a super PAC.
What some prognosticators miss, however, is that Abraham’s district is the second poorest Republican district in the United States, which has traditionally made fundraising difficult there. Abraham also retired all of his campaign debt last year. If he needs to, he can always cut his own checks for his political endeavors.
On the matter of campaign debt, Congressman Clay Higgins of Port Barre nearly cleared his I-owe-you column as well, paying off more than $73,000 in back bills last year. The freshman has brought his campaign debt down from $121,000 to $7,450.
But Higgins’ $50,000 campaign kitty isn’t doing much to scare off possible challengers back in the district. That could soon change, though, as fundraising consultant Sally Nungesser, of Baton Rouge, has been added to the team, according to the Higgins’ campaign.
State GOP Set For New Chair
With Roger Villere stepping down, the Republican State Central Committee will vote on Feb. 24 to install a new chairman for the first time in 14 years.
The latest news from that front comes courtesy of businessman Scott McKnight, who was at one time interested in running, and has now thrown his support behind Baton Rouge consultant Scott Wilfong.
McKnight recently hosted a reception for Wilfong. The co-hosts included a handful of party influencers, such as Todd Danos, Boysie Bollinger, Lane Grigsby, Baton Rouge Councilman Buddy Amoroso, state Rep. Mark Wright of Mandeville and others.
New Orleans attorney Louis Gurvich has been campaigning hard for the job as well. He isn’t alone.
State Rep. Barry Ivey, of Central, recently told friends he intends to run. And state Rep. Julie Emerson, of Carencro, became a candidate last year. Emerson has been promoting her message in well-crafted videos across social media platforms. Longtime party activist Charlie Buckels, of Lafayette, is said to be interested in the job too.
Slates Complete In Special Elections
The state House of Representatives is set to pick up two new members this spring via special elections in Southeast Louisiana.
On Feb. 17, voters in the Hammond-Amite area will vote on a replacement for former Rep. Chris Broadwater in House District 86.
The prevailing assumption is that Navy veteran Michael Showers, the only black candidate and the only Democrat, will make it to the run-off, although it’s still unclear what kind of campaign he’ll be able to mount.
If Showers does have a strong enough showing, the question becomes which Republican makes it into the run-off with him — an important question considering that the district leans to the right in nearly all contests.
The Republicans running are all well connected; they include Tangipahoa Parish School Board member Andy Anderson, attorney Nicky Muscarello and Tangipahoa Parish Councilman David Vial.
On March 24, New Orleans voters will be asked to replace Rep. Helena Moreno. There has been one withdrawal from the race, leaving a four-man field of Democrats. Most of the spotlight has been on attorney Royce Duplessis, the chairman of the New Orleans Planning Commission, who has been plotting a run for quite some time. He has a few proverbial insiders in his corner, and his fundraising is said to be solid.
Also running are Danil Faust and Eldon Anderson, who have run unsuccessfully for other elected positions recently, and attorney and radio show host Kenny Bordes.
Political History: Louisiana’s Lost Offices
With six of our 20 state departments being run by elected officials — lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and insurance commissioner — some might want to argue that Louisiana’s government is a touch top-heavy.
But it used to be a lot worse.
Not long ago, our state hosted large and unwieldy ballots that included the statewide elected positions of custodian of voting machines, register of the state land office, comptroller and education superintendent.
Later reforms, particularly from the 1973 constitutional convention, changed the size and scope of state government. Unfortunately, for some elected officials at the time, that restructuring meant that they would be losing a job.
Prior to 1956, the secretary of state’s office oversaw elections as well as insurance regulation. When a public feud between Gov. Earl Long and Secretary Wade O. Martin boiled over, however, Long had the Legislature strip Martin of those influential powers. Two new offices were created as a result: insurance commissioner and custodian of voting machines.
In the wake of Long’s term, many lawmakers saw the custodian of voting machines as a superfluous office created by a vindictive governor to punish a political foe. The position was later renamed election commissioner. Delegates to the 1973 convention unsuccessfully tried to re-consolidate the office with the secretary of state. It was not until 2001 that the Legislature and Gov. Mike Foster finally returned responsibility for all elections to the secretary of state.
Located at the convergence of real estate and natural resources, the register of the state land office managed the purchase and sale of lucrative state-owned property and mineral leases. The office was the longtime fiefdom of Lucille May Grace, the first female elected to statewide office in Louisiana, and the winner of six subsequent elections. Earl Long had originally proposed abolishing the office in the late 1950s as retaliation for Grace’s public criticisms of his administration. His efforts were unsuccessful. However, the restructuring of state agencies under the 1973 Constitution made the position obsolete. The office was dissolved and the duties were split between the department of natural resources and the division of administration.
The position of state auditor or comptroller was created after the massive corruption of the Louisiana Hayride scandals. Lawmakers at the time felt there should be more oversight over state funds. The comptroller was a member of the Bond Commission, although he was separate from the legislative auditor’s office, treasury and revenue department — a situation that often created confusion. Legislative efforts to streamline the situation got bogged down in political turf wars, until the position was finally abolished by the current Constitution.
Before 1973, all educational institutions in the state, including colleges and universities (except LSU), were under the control of an elected superintendent of education. Assisted by a single board of elected members, the superintendent set the policies and standards for each student and teacher in the state. Incredibly powerful, the office attracted such political notables as Shelby M. Jackson, Bill Dodd, Louis Michot and J. Kelly Nix.
The 1973 Constitution stripped some of that power, separating colleges and universities into their own systems, while reorganizing schools under a new Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The superintendent’s position remained an elected one until 1987, when the Legislature and Gov. Edwin Edwards, fearing further politicization of education policy, placed the post under the control of BESE.
Leges Make Law Before Session
The regular session of the Louisiana Legislature doesn’t convene until March 12. But that doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to see what lawmakers are working on.
As of Jan. 29, there were already 41 instruments filed in the House and 17 in the Senate.
While most are being filed to meet the Legislature’s retirement policy deadlines, a few other policy issues are in the queue.
House Natural Resources Chairman Stuart Bishop, R-Lafayette, has filed HB 4 to extend the special fee on saltwater fishing licenses to fund LACREEL, which the federal government recently approved to handle Louisiana’s coming fish counts.
Democratic Rep. Helena Moreno, with what may be one of her final bills before moving on to the New Orleans City Council, has introduced HB 15. It adds battery of a dating partner, domestic abuse battery and protective order violations to the state’s list of crimes of violence.
In the upper chamber, Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, has SB 1 to “authorize farm vehicles and vehicles transporting cutting or logging equipment to use any public highway except an Interstate highway from sunrise until sunset.”
They Said It
“In a place not known for being witty, he’s witty. But in the Senate, to be witty the bar is low.”
— U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, on U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, in The Huffington Post
“It is not a budget I would vote for. However, it is a budget that is based in reality.”
— State Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Marksville, on Gov. John Bel Edwards’ proposed budget, in Avoyelles Today
“He’s one of the coolest senators.”
— Calvin Franklin, a U.S. Capitol custodian and U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s State of the Union guest, in The Washington Post
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.