By Jeremy Alford, Sarah Gamard and Mitch Rabalais
Democrat Mary Leach Werner, a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, has been receiving overtures from political influencers about running for statewide office in 2019. While Werner has not yet settled on exploring a specific race, there are signs pointing to potential bids for either lieutenant governor or treasurer.
“I am receiving calls and being encouraged to run,” Werner told LaPolitics. “I’m flattered that people want me to pursue statewide office and I’m looking at it and considering all of my options.”
Werner is the director and vice president of The North American Land Co. and The Sweet Lake Land and Oil Co. She’s also the daughter of Buddy Leach, a former congressman and state Democratic Party chairman.
Werner was last on the ballot in 2016, when she unsuccessfully ran for the open Public Service Commission seat in District 4. She did file a campaign finance report for 2017, stating interest in an undecided future race. According to the report, she currently has $1,200 in cash on hand, but hasn’t conducted any fundraising since her PSC campaign. Given her connections, that could change quickly and dramatically.
Budget Process In Question
When Gov. John Bel Edwards issued his executive budget proposal to lawmakers in January, the roughly $1 billion in cuts it contained was a warning more than anything else.
But after a weeklong string of policy failures in the ongoing special session, those cuts are starting to sound more like a threat. “It’s much more of a reality now,” said Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne.
With no revenue emerging to fill the massive budget gap during the special session’s final days, attention is turning to the approaching budget process that will be hosted by the regular session that convenes March 12.
Will lawmakers pass a budget with a nearly $1-billion hole? Will no budget be passed at all? Could a budget be passed with contingencies based on revenue being generated during a second special session in June?
Even if representatives do manage to send a cut-heavy budget bill to the floor during the regular session, Dardenne said he doubted the document could garner enough support to move to the upper chamber.
He expects lawmakers to wait “until the last weeks of June” to pass a budget that will contain new revenue and spending cuts.
Senate Finance Chair Eric LaFleur, D-Ville Platte, said he could envision a scenario in which lawmakers actually pass a balanced budget, cuts and all, during the regular session. “If they do anything other than that, it would be malfeasance,” he said of the House, where the budget bill must originate.
House Appropriations Chairman Cameron Henry, R-Metairie, can also imagine a cut-heavy bill moving through the Legislature. But he added that he’s willing to defer to the House’s budget-writing panel, which he chairs. “What members decide to do with that in committee is up to them,” Henry said.
From the outside looking in, Louisiana Budget Project director Jan Moller said he “can’t imagine” the governor signing off on a budget with nearly $1 billion in cuts, no matter how many lawmakers vote green.
Villere Launches Consulting Firm
Roger Villere is stepping down as chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party after 14 years. He told LaPolitics recently that his next move will be to a political consulting firm.
Villere will serve as president of the newly-created CRV and handle issues and clients alongside former Kenner Mayor Phil Capitano and Danny Riehm, an insurance executive who’s often recognized for his TV and radio broadcasts of high school sports.
As for what’s on tap, Villere said the firm is already working with a black Republican who will oppose Congressman Cedric Richmond this fall in the 2nd Congressional District. Asked for more details, Villere was mum.
Political History: David Duke And Shaquille O’Neal
In 1991, the LSU Basketball team was one of the best squads in the country. Featuring the nation’s top player, Shaquille O’Neal, the Tigers appeared poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
But as basketball season tipped off, it wasn’t exciting games in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center that drew national attention to Louisiana.
Then-state Rep. David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard, had made the run-off in the hotly contested race for governor. With his well-known past, Duke had become the subject of international media attention, basking in the spotlight.
Increasingly worried about how Duke’s image was hurting the state’s ability to attract economic development, New Orleans businessman Dave Dixon paid for a series of TV spots. In them, he explained how a Duke in the Governor’s Mansion could negatively affect LSU’s ability to attract top athletes.
Dixon’s ads were effective, and generated a fair bit of attention. And sportswriters covering LSU began asking players and coaches for their thoughts on the governor’s race.
When approached, O’Neal said, “I’m not into politics. I looked at LSU as a school when I came here. Now if David Duke were the coach and trying to recruit me, I’d have told him to take a hike.”
Days later, a WAFB reporter asked Duke about Dixon’s ads. Having caught O’Neal’s response, Duke said, “Shaquille O’Neal on the LSU basketball team said my being governor wouldn’t affect the state at all. He said, unless I was perhaps the coach.”
O’Neal instantly caught backlash for Duke’s remarks. Coach Dale Brown, never shy with his political opinions, was outraged by the politician’s spin on his player’s words. He helped O’Neal draft a statement denouncing Duke and calling the candidate a liar.
Duke, an LSU alumnus, supposedly made plans to attend the Tigers’ next home game. Brown told LSU administrators that if Duke was in the crowd, he and the team would walk off the court in protest. On the day of the game, police were stationed all around the PMAC, determined to intercept Duke. He never showed.
They Said That
“Last time I checked, we’re broke — like broke broke.”
— State Rep. Kenny Cox, D-Natchitoches, to Matthew Block, the governor’s executive counsel, during a meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee
“We’re working on that.”
— Block, in response
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