Jeremy Alford Wednesday, December 4, 2013 0

Legislation granting university boards more control over tuition didn’t make it through this year’s regular session. But House Speaker Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, says he’s willing to give it another chance in 2014.

In an op-ed written exclusively for LaPolitics.com, Kleckley wrote that he supports such an initiative because it would bring Louisiana up to the Southern Regional Average.

In political terms, it would allow legislators to withdraw from the debate. Right now, they have to muster a two-thirds vote to increase tuition.

“In the past, I have supported tuition freedom to raise post-secondary tuition to the Southern Regional Average in Louisiana without the required two-thirds vote of the House and Senate,” Kleckley wrote. “We are the only state that has the two-thirds vote requirement.”

Of course, there are strings attached. Kleckley is of the opinion that the authority should only be granted if universities are willing to up their collective game.

“I believe that we have politically suppressed our tuition, which has been harmful to post-secondary education,” he added. “However, while I support tuition autonomy, that authority should only be granted if colleges and universities are willing to provide greater accomplishments in exchange.”

But before he’s willing to lead the charge, Kleckley wants “one loud, clear, unified voice” from university heads around the state. In an earlier interview, Kleckley said he had already contacted Dr. F. King Alexander, president of the LSU system; Dr. Ronald Mason, president of the Southern system; Dr. Sandra Woodley president of the UL system; and Jim Purcell, commissioner of higher education, to tell them he’d be the point man on a bill next session if they got together on the specifics.

In his op-ed, Kleckley also left the door open for possible changes to the TOPS scholarship program in 2014. “We must continue to protect TOPS and reward students who work hard and give them the ability to get a quality higher education,” he wrote. “At the same time we must find a way to better manage TOPS to make sure it is financially sustainable.”


PAC Money Could Buoy Tea Party Favorite

A great deal of media coverage has focused on the fact that the Senate Conservatives Fund overlooked Congressman Bill Cassidy in order to endorse fellow Republican Rob Maness. But the real story could be the amount of money that could potentially be steered to the tea party favorite.

The fund’s Super PAC has collected more than $5.6 million for current cycle, with $2.1 million generated in September alone. It spent more than $1 million supporting Republican Ted Cruz of Texas in his successful Senate campaign last year.

Should Maness, a retired Air Force colonel from Madisonville, who has reported raising $100,000, manage to capture any real momentum or draw serious press coverage, those familiar with the Super PAC say a six-figure injection isn’t unlikely — especially with 3,300 financial supporters living in Louisiana.

Whether the endorsement can help him overtake Cassidy as the prime challenger is another matter. But it would be a notable achievement in his campaign.

Both candidates are hoping to overcome the re-election of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat.


Fundraising For Cassidy Has Two Faces

The fundraising gap in the U.S. Senate race between Landrieu and Cassidy isn’t getting smaller, and is actually larger than reported.

The most recent quarterly campaign finance reports show the incumbent Democrat from New Orleans with $5.8 million cash on hand, compared to Cassidy’s $3.4 million.

But of Cassidy’s sum, $148,100 was raised for, and can only be spent on, a December runoff election. Landrieu can spend all the money raised so far in the November 2014 primary.

“It doesn’t look like a lot on paper, but he’s basically maxing out or starting to max out certain donors,” said a campaign operative. Such a development bolsters the candidate’s overall totals in the much-watched money race.

In addition, Cassidy transferred $2.4 million from his House account in June — something else that propped up his second quarter filing.

Campaign observers question the need for holding back money for December. “If this goes into a December runoff, this will be the last runoff in the country,” said one. “There will be a lot of eyes on the race, so I’m not sure what’s behind this strategy.”

The Cassidy campaign declined to comment on the inner workings of the congressman’s fundraising, but he’s leading his challenger peers nationwide, according to a new breakdown from Washington, D.C. newspaper Roll Call.

Among Republican Senate candidates who are non-incumbents in other states, Cassidy ranks first for his campaign account total. That set of candidates includes Republicans running for open seats as well. Cassidy even has more money in the bank than a few incumbents.

However, when it comes to the $685,000 raised during the third quarter, Cassidy ranks sixth among Republicans who are challenging incumbents next year.

Landrieu, meanwhile, raised $1.3 million and spent $432,000 during the most recent quarter.

The other Republican, Maness, had a burn rate in the third quarter, raising $58,000, spending $68,000 and leaving $16,000 in the bank.


Dems To Target North Louisiana

Sources inside the state Democratic Party tell LaPolitics that a win in next year’s 6th Congressional District is “insurmountable,” and that focusing on U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu’s re-election is only half of the strategy for the 2014 cycle.

The other half can be found in the piney woods of north Louisiana, where Democrats are hoping they can pick off two GOP incumbents in the 4th and 5th congressional districts.

It’s a tall order, to be certain, especially after the thrashing Democrats took in the recent 5th District primary.

Party leaders have been fielding complaints in the primary’s wake that the field wasn’t cleared for a lead candidate in that race, which now has an all-Republican runoff, and that more wasn’t done to support the Dem contenders who did qualify.

For now, party leaders say they are refocusing efforts and implementing a “people first” game plan that will be driven by statistics and will seek to energize the party’s base.

“This is not going to be the old Democratic Party, where decisions are made in smoke-filled rooms,” said one party official. “We are going to focus on data and numbers.”

That not only means capturing the seat that will be taken by a Republican next month in northeast Louisiana, but also bringing a fight to incumbent Congressman John Fleming, R-Minden, whom Democrats targeted in 2012 before hitting a political brick wall.

While no names have surfaced as of yet, the party is keen on pointing out that Shreveport Mayor Cedric Glover is term-limited — even if he isn’t necessarily the top choice of Dems in the region.

The endgame may be all about Landrieu, who will need to do well in north Louisiana for her expected win in voter-rich New Orleans proper to truly matter.


Blueprint Gearing Up For ‘Bold’ Effort

Lafayette attorney Clay Allen said the good government group Blueprint Louisiana, for which he serves as secretary-treasurer, is preparing to unleash an aggressive reform campaign targeting the 2015 election cycle. “It will be bold and we will be out in force,” Allen said.

Blueprint’s board of directors is in the research phase of the effort. They intend to focus on fiscal issues and funding for higher education.

“We’re in a quiet period right now, but we’ll be making grassroots presentations next year and educating the public,” Allen said.

The group’s bipartisan PAC will play a central role, he added, as it did in 2007 when more than $1.6 million was spent to help elect a majority of the House and Senate.

Blueprint, in its last go-around, asked candidates to sign a contract backing its priorities; the PAC spent money to promote those who vowed support.

“With reform fatigue taking hold, right now the state really needs some help from a nonpartisan group interested in advocating real changes,” Allen said. “We want to help create the political will.”

Allen said Blueprint is under new leadership with the election of Dr. Phillip Rozeman of Shreveport as chairman.


They Said It  

“I don’t endorse many politicians. But Chris Christie is different.”

— Shaquille O’Neal, in a campaign ad for the New Jersey governor.

“I don’t know yet and I think it’s too early.”

— Gov. Bobby Jindal on running for president, on Fox News.

“It should be a great thing. But it just takes one stumble to make it all look bad.”

— Senate President John Alario, R-Westwego, on the controversial program that allows legislators to award scholarships to Tulane University.

“It was probably the catalyst for me getting involved in politics.”

— Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, on his time as president of the LSU student body.


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