By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
Moon Griffon, the fiery and sometimes controversial radio host, is bringing his brand of conservative punditry back to Louisiana’s capital region after several short, unsuccessful runs in the premier Bayou State market over the past decade or so.
“I’m tickled to death,” he told LaPolitics. “We think that we need to be there. I feel like our program talks more about what goes on in Baton Rouge, at the Capitol and in the governor’s office more than anybody else.”
While most episodes will be pre-recorded in Griffon’s studio in Lafayette, he will be traveling to Baton Rouge about once a month for live shows from the studios of WJBO Newsradio.
As political activity increases, such as during election cycles, so could the frequency of the live shows, said Griffon.
“During session, we might come do a program every Saturday,” he added.
Capitol-area listeners to Griffon’s show can expect a healthy diet of guests from the hallways and committee rooms. Public Affairs Research Council president Robert Travis Scott was a guest, for example, on the show’s first live episode.
“We will have Republicans, Democrats, people that don’t like me and people that do. They are welcome to come by,” he said.
Multiple Legislators Eligible For Dean Role
The era of term limits has certainly changed some traditions around the Legislature, particularly when it comes to seniority. With members now locked into fixed amounts of time, it can create some intrigue, particularly when determining who will be the dean in each chamber.
With the 2019 elections approaching and the next term on the horizon, some in Capitol Land have begun asking about who could be the new dean of the House. The position is currently held by Rep. Andy Anders, who is termed out. Anders holds the post because he won a special election in 2006 to succeed Bryant Hammett, giving him an extra year over the members that were elected in the regularly scheduled races in 2007.
However, next term things may be further complicated on the seniority front by some members such as Sen. Francis Thompson, who previously spent 33 years in House and is looking to return to the lower chamber.
Should Thompson win, he could feasibly make an argument that he is the dean of the House. But according to House clerk Butch Speer, there are no set rules around the process. “That’s really up to the House itself and how the members choose to treat the members who come back,” he said.
Speer did point to the 2007 cycle as somewhat of a precedent, when then-Rep. Noble Ellington returned to the lower chamber after a previous stint but was classified as a freshman in the seniority pecking order.
According to Speer, should members returning to the lower chamber be grouped in with the other freshmen, Rep. Alan Seabaugh would be the new dean of the House. Since Seabaugh is up for a federal judgeship, the title could feasibly fall to Rep. Mike Huval, the next person in line.
However, if Huval doesn’t return in 2020, things could get really complicated. There are no members left with seniority because of special elections, meaning everybody who was sworn into the House in 2012 could theoretically be the most senior member.
“They all took the oath at the same time,” Speer said. “All 22 could have an argument that they are the dean.”
Q&A: Louisiana Budget Project Director Moller On The ACA
LaPolitics: We recently saw a federal judge in Texas make a ruling declaring the federal Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. There has already been some talk about bills being filed for the next session of the Louisiana Legislature. Do you think we are going to see an engulfing debate?
Moller: Well, Medicaid was always going to be a big issue because it covers so many people in this state. So many people, by virtue of income or disability, are dependent on that program to access healthcare. It obviously is the most expensive program in state government.
The coverage that more than half a million people in Louisiana depend on is being threatened by this judge’s ruling. So absolutely it is going to be a huge issue, and hopefully this ruling will be a wake-up call to those who take the program for granted.
The expansion of Medicaid has been one of the great public health success stories in Louisiana. We have an uninsured rate in our state now that is below the national average. This ruling threatens to undo that, and I think efforts will be made to protect the gains that have been made.
LaPolitics: What are some of the other things that we will see out of the Budget Project over the next year?
Moller: We’re still looking at that. We’re going to continue to do research on the budget, on revenues. Obviously, the tax compromise from 2018 is far from perfect, but I think we have some stability in our budget for the first time in over a decade. We hope the Legislature doesn’t squander some of that by trying to cut taxes. So we will be very vigilant on that front and we’re going to be looking for policies that help low income working families get ahead. That’s what we do every day.
Uncle Earl: Slaughtering Hogs For Preachers
If you’ve spent any time around Louisiana politics, it’s a safe bet you’ve heard a story or two — or probably 100 — about late Gov. Earl K. Long.
Legendary were the escapades of this pea-patch-planting, hospital-escaping, stripper-dating, microphone-screaming, linen-suit-wearing, lawmaker-punching chief executive.
While the governor was a man who frequently referred to himself as “The Last of the Red Hot Poppas,” younger generations are likely unaware of Long’s spiritual side and his holiday gift-giving.
Long had been quoting the Bible out on the stump his entire career and telling voters he was the best friend they could have, besides “Jesus Christ and Sears and Roebuck.”
But he didn’t start regularly attending services until he was baptized by the First Baptist Church of Baton Rouge in 1955. (According to historian Morgan D. Peoples, Long didn’t want to offend voters in Catholic south Louisiana, so he made a point of telling crowds in Acadiana that he was “about 40-percent Catholic and 60-percent Baptist,” by virtue of his attendance at Loyola University’s Law School.)
As Christmas neared following his baptism in 1955, Long painstakingly worked at his Pea Patch Farm in Winnfield, preparing the fruits of his agricultural spread to give out to voters as gifts. The breads, vegetables and milk became an annual tradition that Long maintained until his death.
While lawmakers usually didn’t get much out of Long if it wasn’t connected to a piece of legislation, Uncle Earl was rather kind during the holidays to his favorite preachers in Baton Rouge and Winnfield. Every year they received fully-dressed hogs, slaughtered personally by the governor.
Field Notes: From Richmond To Gleason
— No. 4 In The House: New Orleans congressman Cedric Richmond, a Democrat who represents portions of the greater Baton Rouge area, has landed a new post in the incoming House Democratic leadership.
Richmond’s new role will be assistant to the majority whip, a job that will make him the “right-hand man” of incoming whip James Clyburn of South Carolina. The position is a new one, created by Clyburn and incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi, and it will make Richmond the No. 4 man in the leadership. With Pelosi already announcing her intentions to step aside in 2022, the New Orleans pitching ace is in a prime position to move up the Democrats’ pecking order.
— Know Your Districts: The Louisiana Budget Project has released a new set of district fact sheets, tabulating figures such as “district-by-district data on poverty, Medicaid enrollment, education, incomes, the safety net and other important statistics.” LBP has complied sheets for all 105 House districts and 39 Senate seats. See the district level fact sheets at labudget.org/district-level-fact-sheets.
— U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and his wife, Laura, have authored an op-ed for The Hill, advocating for increased dyslexia treatment, which they see as key to addressing criminal justice reform and illiteracy.
— The U.S. House of Representatives voted to award the Congressional Gold Medal to former New Orleans Saints player and ALS advocate Steve Gleason.
Revenue In N.O. City Hall
The first female mayor of Louisiana’s most well-known city is preparing to help ring in the new political year with an aggressive push for more tax dollars.
The same could likely be applied across the municipal spectrum in other mayorships, particularly with the Legislature’s April fiscal session on the 2019 calendar. Short of a special call issued by the body or governor, legislators won’t vote again on tax-related matters until the regular session of 2021.
Using recent history as a guide, representatives and senators dislike taking votes on taxes, especially during election years like 2019, and many of them simply hate — or fear — voting against their local officials. So the competition for tax votes next year will be brisk.
Yet there’s one difference with the revenue campaign originating in the geographic jewel of Orleans Parish — there’s a statewide angle involved. The Crescent City is, after all, a popular media focal point in Louisiana and a major tourism driver for the state.
“New Orleans needs a little bit more revenue, so that she can not only take care of herself, but continue to drive the economy of the state of Louisiana,” said New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell.
With little wiggle room in the municipal budget and a daunting list of public works projects to address, Cantrell has been exploring options since she took office in May. The numbers involved are eye-opening, she added, and they grow with each passing year of inaction.
“I’m owning the infrastructure needs of this city, which will require an additional $80 million to $100 million a year, so that we can not only fix but maintain infrastructure in this city,” Cantrell said during the season-opening episode of The LaPolitics Report podcast, which is slated to be released Jan. 8.
It’s no secret that New Orleans has a glaring infrastructure problem; potholes are as ubiquitous as po-boys and significant street flooding is a common occurrence. In Cantrell’s view, the current state of affairs is unacceptable.
“Looking at it as a system, it is inadequate right now,” she said. “That is a fact.”
As lawmakers begin the process of introducing legislation ahead of the regular session, Cantrell is open to reworking some of the existing formulas for tax collections in her city, some of which may require legislative approval. In certain instances, it may mean diverting tax revenue from the state or other entities for the benefit of New Orleans.
“I’m just looking to get a little bit more of what we generate, so we can do better on infrastructure,” Cantrell said.
Field Notes: From Beltway To Jersey
— U.S. Sen. John Kennedy has announced his opposition to president Donald Trump’s criminal justice reform bill, the First Step Act. Kennedy’s opposition will prevent Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell from quickly moving the bill with unanimous consent.
— Former state Sen. Marty Chabert of Terrebonne Parish has been named as the new chairman of the Board of Regents. He will officially take the gavel of the state’s top higher-ed board at their January meeting.
— Longtime education advocate Ronald Briggs is the new chairman of the board of directors for the Louisiana Federation for the Children. Briggs replaces gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone, who stepped down from the post when he launched his campaign.
— Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority director Johnny Bradberry has tendered his resignation to Gov. John Bel Edwards. In a statement, the governor’s office said Bradberry will be leaving CPRA Jan. 1 for an opportunity in the private sector.
— Former mayors Dud Lastrapes and Joey Durel have endorsed the proposed amendment to reverse the consolidation of Lafayette Parish’s government.
— Were you looking for a custom-made “I Voted” sticker on Election Day? While the state halted its production of the Blue Dog stickers, St. Tammany Parish Clerk of Court Melissa Henry said her office handed out its own version at polling places earlier this month.
— Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be in New Orleans next month to address the annual meeting of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States.
They Said It
“Nerdy constitutional writer.”
— Congressman Mike Johnson, R-Shreveport, when asked by a reporter with The Hill to describe himself
“I just paid off my law school loans myself in the last few months.”
—Gov. John Bel Edwards, on getting rid of his student loan debt, on the “Ask the Governor” radio program
“It seems those who have put deadlines on themselves before really haven’t been able to honor their own deadlines.”
—State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Mandeville, on making a decision on the governor’s race, in The News-Star
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.