By Jeremy Alford, Mitch Rabalais and Sarah Gamard
It’s been about three months since this year’s legislative finale at the Capitol, which was plenty enough time for the Legislature’s leadership to recover and assess the resulting policy output from four sessions.
LaPolitics interviewed House Speaker Taylor Barras, R-New Iberia, and Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, and asked them identical questions about the potential paths forward for the Legislature.
LaPolitics: Could anything prompt another session this calendar year?
— Alario: “If a hurricane comes along as devastating as we had with Katrina … we had to come in several sessions after that happened. You’ve got all kinds of reasons the Legislature has to meet. But barring that, I don’t see any need for one at this point. There’s always the possibility some federal legislation would come along that we might have to adjust to. I don’t want to say ‘never,’ but it looks like the coast is clear for now.”
— Barras: “I don’t anticipate seeing any reason that a special session would be needed at this point. I think general economics have been pretty much what we had expected. Maybe [there’s been] some slight improvement. So that does help. It’s not like the economy is deteriorating any longer. Depending on what the administration comes up with as far as the executive budget is concerned at the beginning of ‘19, I’m assuming they’re going to work within the parameters of the revenue that we have at this point.”
LaPolitics: What will be some of the issues to watch for the 2019 regular session? Are any issues already surfacing?
— Alario: “That’s certainly an opportunity for anybody who has any ideas of any fiscal reform. But I would imagine it’ll be more of a quiet session because of the fact that it’s an election year … I don’t see anything of any burning desire at this point.”
— Barras: “Other than possibly some of the more general reform ideas, both on the budget reform side as well as possibly on the revenue side, I don’t see the revenue measures getting much traction after what we’ve been through for the last three years.”
Edwards May Fight For Dem Cash
With aggressive gubernatorial campaigns in Kentucky and Mississippi on tap for 2019, competition for national Democratic dollars could become fierce right when Gov. John Bel Edwards needs the re-election loot most.
Back home in Louisiana, members of the governor’s campaign team have been wearing political poker faces. Key staffers contend the election schedules in other states won’t have an impact on the more than $500,000 raised last year by the governor’s leadership PAC, or the roughly $5 million sitting in his campaign’s bank account.
“He didn’t rely on that outside influence in 2015,” said Deputy Chief of Staff Richard Carbo, who also worked on the Edwards campaign last cycle. The candidate never relied on such resources because they were unavailable to him for most of his campaign.
For example, his first meeting with the Democratic Governors Assoc. may have taken place as early as January, 2013; and it was followed by several other unsuccessful appeals until the DGA finally inserted itself and its resources into the Louisiana race — in late October, 2015, three days after the primary’s conclusion and four weeks before the runoff.
Edwards’ long-shot victory placed him in the national spotlight alone — a politically preferred designation. Now, as his campaign team barrels toward 2019, the governor will likely be forced to share the spotlight with two candidates looking to repeat his success in their own states.
For the first time since 2003, Democrats are fielding competitive candidates in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, hoping to break the GOP’s dominance of southern governorships. Both Kentucky and Mississippi will head to the polls a week before Louisiana voters cast their ballots in 2019 runoffs.
Stephen Handwerk, the executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said his office is working with the Democratic National Committee to secure funding for the 2019 cycle. “We’re going to be marshaling all our resources,” Handwerk said.
Businessman May Run For Governor
Known best by Baton Rouge’s Capitol class as a soft-spoken, influential donor and philanthropist, Eddie Rispone may soon add gubernatorial candidate to his portfolio.
Rispone, a Republican, told LaPolitics in an interview that he has formed an exploratory committee for the 2019 showdown that will feature the re-election bid of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“I’m thinking about running and didn’t want any rumors out there,” said Rispone when he was asked about the creation of his committee. “I want to see what kind of support there is out there before I make up my mind. I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while.”
Rispone, the founder of ISC Constructors, said he would be willing to put his personal resources behind a campaign. “That’s the big difference between me and others who could do this,” he said.
Rispone’s policy interests tend to focus solely on, or eventually point back to, education; it’s the issue drawing him into the governor’s race. “I’ve been really frustrated over the past two years, especially after a track record of moving the needle prior to that,” said Rispone, who serves as chairman of the Louisiana Federation for Children.
As for when he’ll make a final decision and who has been tapped for his exploratory committee, Rispone said more details would be forthcoming.
So far, no one has announced for the contest aside from the governor. The potential candidates include U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, Attorney General Jeff Landry, Congressman Ralph Abraham, state Sen. Sharon Hewitt and Stephen Waguespack, the president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. All are Republicans.
Key Hires In Lone Statewide Race
With the Nov. 6 special election primary for secretary of state less than three months away, the established candidates are officially staffed up for their bids. The hires reveal not only levels of professionalism, but also, in some instances, political leanings and possible alliances. Mostly, though, the names are a peek behind the curtains of modern campaigning.
— The perceived frontrunner in the race, state Rep. Julie Stokes, R-Kenner, has signed The Political Firm’s consultants Jason Hebert and Scott Hobbs. They’ve run GOP campaigns for Congressman Garret Graves of Baton Rouge and U.S. Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Metairie. The Political Firm will be her general consultants, in addition to handling the campaign’s media.
Nicole Desormeaux and Ann Rasmussen will handle fundraising for Stokes, who already has the largest campaign war chest, according to finance reports.
Day-to-day operations will be overseen by Anna Kornick, who also worked on Stokes’ brief bid for state treasurer last year. Kornick was previously a staffer to former Congressman Joe Cao of New Orleans, as well as Acadiana’s Scott Angelle during his tenure as secretary of the Dept. of Natural Resources.
— Interim Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has brought on Baton Rouge consultant Lionel Rainey III, who will serve as the general, media and fundraising consultant. “In a race like this, every penny counts, and a low overhead is essential,” said Rainey, who has worked on the Republican campaigns of U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and Treasurer John Schroder.
— Former Sen. A.G. Crowe’s campaign is being supervised by Jack McAdams, who previously worked as a grassroots coordinator for state Sens. Neil Riser of Columbia and Bodi White of Central. Crowe has also brought on conservative operatives Scott Wilfong and former Sen. Dan Richey as his general consultants. Both men are from Baton Rouge. Greg Buisson of Jefferson Parish is taking on the media consultant role, having produced ads previously for a bipartisan slate of candidates, including Republican Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and New Orleans City Councilwoman Helena Moreno, a Democrat. Former state GOP Chairman Roger Villere will oversee the campaign’s social media operations.
— Reneé Fontenot Free, the only prominent Democrat in the race, has brought on former U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s longtime state director, T. Bradley Keith, as her campaign manager. Consultant Randy Hayden and his firm, Creative Communications, have been enlisted to handle media and fundraising. Hayden has worked for former state Senate President Randy Ewing and former Public Service Commissioner Jimmy Field, among others.
— Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud has retained one of Congressman Clay Higgins’ strategists, Christian Gil, to serve as her general consultant. Sally Nungesser, a longtime GOP fundraiser who has worked for figures such as former Gov. Mike Foster and Whip Scalise, has signed on to build Cloud’s war chest.
— State Rep. Rick Edmonds’ campaign will be led by consultant J. Hudson of 3 Strategies. Hudson previously managed former Congressman John Fleming’s U.S. Senate campaign and Paul Dietzel’s bid for Congress. Allee Bautsch Grunewald, one of the most prominent fundraisers in the state, will be tasked with keeping Edmonds’ campaign account full. On reporter duty will be Public Service Commissioner Craig Greene’s former communications consultant Delia Taylor, who will be handling Edmonds’ communications. Media guru Roy Fletcher, a veteran of numerous statewide campaigns, has joined team Edmonds as well.
News Site Targets Statehouse
It’s no secret that newspapers have been increasingly laying off reporters for years, and especially reporters covering statehouses. But a new conservative-leaning outfit is working to reverse that trend around the country, and in Louisiana.
By covering state politics “from the taxpayers’ perspective,” Watchdog.org has earned both fans and foes.
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity is funding Watchdog’s endeavors. The goal is to have a reporter in every statehouse. While this hasn’t yet happened in Baton Rouge, Watchdog’s news team has reached out to Louisiana journalists to fill the role.
In the meantime, Watchdog has been publishing stories with bylines about the Bayou State. The stories, which are written mostly about the Capitol, are by writers from elsewhere.
The outfit brands itself as non-partisan. But its umbrella organization has conservative roots, and it co-hosted the 2012 Breitbart Awards. Its former president, Nicole Neily, is now a senior fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Forum, and she runs a separate organization that promotes free speech on college campuses.
“If Watchdog.org is considered right-leaning journalism, or what the market would consider right-leaning journalism, what does that say about the marketplace?” asked current Franklin Center President and Watchdog publisher Chris Krug, who stressed the desire of readers to know about their tax dollars. “We’re not into labels.”
State Rep. Lance Harris of Alexandria, the chairman of the House Republican Delegation, has been interviewed by Watchdog reporters and welcomes the additional coverage. “Anything that adds transparency to the process, and maybe a different view, I think that’s a good thing,” Harris said.
On the other hand, there’s Democratic Sen. J.P. Morrell of New Orleans: “I don’t necessarily agree with some of the positions that Watchdog.org has on stuff, or their interpretations,” he said, “but at least it’s grounded somewhat in logic.”
“I GARONTEE!” A Cajun Celebrity’s Political Path
With his cooking shows on public broadcasting, and his various books and albums enjoying retail success, the late Justin Wilson rode a wave of celebrity throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Louisiana.
Yet the legend generated by his iconic red suspenders and over-embellished storytelling rarely revealed Wilson’s own background in the sometimes murky and often colorful world of Bayou State politics.
While he would later go on to become a skilled political operative with connections to Louisiana governors, Wilson’s introduction to campaigns and public service started at an early age at home in Tangipahoa Parish. His father was a two-term state representative and served 32 years as agriculture commissioner, which provided young Wilson with hands-on experience.
His father’s political affiliations landed Wilson a job inspecting warehouses in the administration of Gov. Huey Long during the 1930s. Over time, future governor Earl K. Long noticed Wilson’s humor and found use for the young man in his campaign operations.
When “Uncle Earl,” ran for a second term in 1948, he put Wilson on the campaign trail to perform impressions of former Gov. Sam Jones, who would go on to lose that election. Wilson was ordered to dress like Jones as he traveled the state greeting voters as he pretended to be Jones and promised to raise taxes.
During the next election cycle in 1952, Wilson managed the gubernatorial campaign of former Lt. Gov. Bill Dodd, who was unsuccessful. Wilson was successful, however, in creating an original brand of humor, honed over the years while introducing politicians to crowds. He delivered his own form of political performance art.
Wilson’s body of oratory yielded numerous catchphrases, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. By the time the 1960s came into focus, Wilson had found the one that performed best — “I garontee!” — and he was discovering audiences that wanted more.
They Said It
“I think I called him a ‘butthead,’ and I meant it.”
— U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, on former CIA Director John Brennan, on CNN
“The Twitter stuff that you see out there, that is what gets the big attention. But frankly, when you are in meetings with him, he is all business.”
— Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, on President Donald Trump, in The Advocate
“It makes me realize how much I don’t like my Army cot in D.C.”
— Congressman Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, on being home for the August recess, on Talk 107.3 FM
“If something has been done wrong, we’ll do the audit when I’m re-elected.”
— Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler, on opening an investigation into her administration, in The Shreveport Times
“I am the eternal optimist, so the outlook is good. But I’m not going to bet on that.”
— Gaming Control Board Chairman Ronnie Jones, on revenue forecasts, at the Baton Rouge Press Club
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.