By Jeremy Alford & Mitch Rabalais
Time has become a factor for the Louisiana Legislature, with less than weeks to go until the session’s end.
The pressure ratchets up further when you consider that Gov. John Bel Edwards and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, have agreed to end the regular session prematurely, possibly in early to mid-May, to make room for the year’s second special session.
The House, however, isn’t fully onboard with the plan, which would need to be implemented rather soon. The leadership in the lower chamber does believe the regular session should be concluded so a special session can be gaveled in. But representatives favor waiting a little longer — maybe until the front end of May’s fourth week.
During a recent meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, Edwards warned that “the clock is running out” for lawmakers’ efforts to address a $700-million budget shortfall (as estimated by the governor’s office).
As the administration is presumably preparing its special session call, which is expected to include opportunities to tinker with taxes, Truth in Politics (TIP) is launching an “eight-week multi-market media campaign” that sheds a negative light on the governor’s performance.
TIP is a Louisiana-based, anti-Edwards political action committee that was created last year to put a dent in the incumbent’s re-election hopes.
A spokesperson for the outfit said this most recent effort is wrapped up in a six-figure statewide TV and digital buy. So far, the introductory 30-second spot, which features a talking baby, has been seen on cable in the Baton Rouge, Lafayette and New Orleans markets.
“The whole state has been going backwards ever since we gave John Bel Edwards the keys,” the digitally enhanced baby says in the commercial. “You know, paychecks getting smaller, jobs moving out, worst place to raise a kid.”
Richard Carbo, the governor’s deputy chief of staff, said, “Truth in Politics is a partisan attack group that’s funded solely by one of Bobby Jindal’s largest campaign contributors. The ironic thing is that the report they cite uses outdated statistics from Gov. Jindal’s time in office, not [from] the current administration.”
Carbo also noted that “unemployment is at a 10-year low; new business opportunities are popping up every day, including the largest economic development deal in the state’s history; and a new economic report [was released] showing that wages in Louisiana grew among the fastest in the nation in 2017.”
TIP’s ad campaign represents another layer of criticism for the governor, whose priorities are being regularly questioned by promoted social media videos produced by the House Republican Delegation, as well as out-of-state political action committees.
How much these attacks will distract from the governor’s messaging on the so-called fiscal cliff, and how much it will influence the pace of things to come during the remainder of the regular session, will soon be seen.
Political History: The Senator Known As “Sixty”
The Louisiana Legislature has seen many characters pass through its halls. But none were quite like Benjamin Burras Rayburn, who represented Washington and St. Tammany parishes for more than 45 years.
According to his obituary in The Times-Picayune, Rayburn, also known as “Sixty,” had varying stories about how he obtained his famous nickname. Most folks in Washington Parish say he got the moniker because in his first election, his ballot number was 60.
Born in Mississippi, Rayburn spent his early years across state lines before moving to Bogalusa. He attended the city’s technical college, which still credits the construction of its current campus to Rayburn’s work with the capital outlay budget.
Rayburn worked as a pipe fitter at Bogalusa’s paper mill and raised horses and cattle on the side. First elected to the Legislature in 1948, he bonded with then-Gov. Earl Long over their shared passion for farming and livestock. Rayburn’s passion for animals even led him to help author legislation that created the School of Veterinary Medicine at LSU, the only program of its kind in the state.
According to Morgan Peoples’ and Michael Kurtz’s book Earl K. Long: The Saga of Uncle Earl and Louisiana Politics, Rayburn was a frequent visitor to Long’s “pea patch farm” in Winnfield, and even helped secure the governor’s release from a state mental hospital in 1959. Long repaid Rayburn’s loyalty by approving a new charity hospital for Bogalusa.
Rayburn was the longtime chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, enjoying enormous control on the state’s purse strings. Press accounts from the 1970s and 1980s contain lengthy reports about his power over the budgeting and capital outlay processes. By then, Rayburn had become the Legislature’s senior member, often recounting stories of his adventures with “Mr. Earl” for freshmen lawmakers.
In the 1990s, Rayburn and other lawmakers were accused of taking bribes in order to protect the video poker license of a Slidell businessman. The legislators were indicted and stood trial, and Rayburn was the only defendant who was found innocent on all charges. This legal saga is recounted in detail in Tyler Bridges’ book Bad Bet on the Bayou: The Rise of Gambling in Louisiana and the Fall of Governor Edwin Edwards.
Even though he was acquitted, Rayburn still lost his bid for re-election in 1995. Despite being retired from politics, the former lawmaker often made appearances at committee hearings and community meetings to lobby for his pet projects until he died peacefully in 2008, at the age of 91.
Kennedy Keeps Tabs On Parole Board
We haven’t heard the last of U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s appeals to the state Parole Board, according to his spokesperson.
Due to the criminal justice overhaul, the board voted last month to deny a temporary medical furlough for an Angola inmate who was eligible for treatment outside of the prison.
Kennedy petitioned the board and asked its members not to give inmate Clyde Gibbens an “undeserved gift.”
The letter was another installment in Kennedy’s ongoing criticisms of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ 2017 reform package.
So, is Kennedy planning to keep track of the other cases coming before the Parole Board, particularly those connected to last year’s criminal justice reforms?
“Absolutely,” said Michelle Millhollon, Kennedy’s communications director, “especially violent offenders who stand to benefit from the governor’s early release program.”
List Of Secretary Candidates Growing
If you want to know who may run next year for secretary of state — the incumbent, Tom Schedler, bowed out after being targeted in a sexual harassment lawsuit — look no further than the Louisiana Legislature.
Rep. Scott Simon, R-Abita Springs, is among the latest contenders seriously considering the contest.
An architect, Simon was formerly chairman of the House Health and Welfare Committee. He also has a compelling personal story — Simon legislates and lives much of his life from a wheelchair.
While working as an elevator repairman in 1995, a drilling rig used to create holes for hydraulic elevator shafts suddenly broke and fell on Simon. It crushed his vertebrae and severed his spinal cord, rendering him a paraplegic. Married with five children at the time, Simon coupled his recovery with a college degree and, eventually, a career in politics.
Further up the leadership chain, House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, said during the most recent episode of LaPolitics’ Capitol Gains talk show that he’s being encouraged to run.
“It’s not necessarily something that I’m not interested in, but it just wasn’t on the radar until the last couple of weeks,” Barras said. “I’m not ruling it out.”
Rep. Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, a well-known pastor in the Red Stick region, said he’s being encouraged to run for secretary of state as well. Asked if he had made up his mind yet, pastor Edmonds said, “It’s hard to make up your mind sometimes.”
Others looking at the race include Rep. Paul Hollis, R-Mandeville; Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield; Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner; Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe; and LSU Board of Supervisors member Mary Leach Werner, a Democrat.
They Said It
“Size does matter.”
— Rep. Jerome Zeringue, R-Houma, commenting on his legislation that would have changed the acceptable size of certain oysters for raw consumption
“Do you make Lucky Dogs out of swine?”
— Rep. Greg Cromer, R-Slidell, to Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, who co-owns the company with his family, and who was presenting legislation on feral hogs
“Y’all are like your own country anyway.”
— Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, after being asked by a New Orleans legislator to amend a bill in a way that was New Orleans-specific
“I run a mortuary and I’ve been driving a hearse all my life, basically … I used to go and pick up wine and go back to Grambling and sell it out the hearse.”
— Sen. Greg Tarver, D-Shreveport, during a debate over alcohol deliveries.
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.