Jeremy Alford Thursday, February 19, 2015 0

“There’s no consensus.” 

That’s the opinion of opinion-finder Bernie Pinsonat of Southern Media and Opinion Research. His firm recently polled 600 likely voters on the budget situation, and learned that participants were as mixed on finding a solution as our elected officials.

Over the next five fiscal years, beginning with the budget that has to be crafted in the spring session, shortfalls will range between $1.4 and $1.8 billion — and maybe more.

Mid-year budget cuts are also being implemented in an attempt to right the current fiscal year before it ends on June 30.

Lawmakers need answers. But voters are divided on the issue.

For starters, poll participants don’t want further cuts to higher education. Nearly 80 percent are opposed. This is bad news for lawmakers. The administration said as much as $300 million in cuts could be in store for higher ed next fiscal year.

In addition, only 23 percent of poll participants favor paying additional personal taxes to avoid cuts to state government.

Voters are evenly split on across-the-board cuts to state services to balance the budget. But they oppose increasing fees for state services by a 52-40 margin.

Poll participants just barely favored doing away with tax exemptions for specific types of businesses — 48-38. But that result provides lawmakers with a bit of cover for considering a temporary suspension of some sales taxes.


By 2020, Half Of Legislature May Be Gone

Term limits were approved by Louisiana voters in 1995 by a vote of 76 percent, but they didn’t go into effect until eight years ago.

With just three terms — 12 years — allowed, lawmakers and everyone else are still getting used to the revised timeline.

But reality will soon again set in, as 60 percent of the current membership of the Louisiana Legislature will be barred from running for re-election over the next four years.

Right now, 14 members of the House and seven from the Senate are term-limited, making for 21 lawmakers on the do-not-run list. But in 2019, there will be 66 overall, including 47 from the House and 19 from the upper chamber.

Of course, the numbers will dip and spin as House members look to upgrade to the Senate and, surely, some senators look to hold on by moving down a notch to the lower chamber.

Either way, it’s a loss of institutional knowledge. But the Legislature has been there before. In 2007, the House had 59 new members elected to their first term of service, with one senator, Noble Ellington, being re-elected to the House after 12 years in the other chamber.

So the 14 members the House loses this year won’t compare. But orienting as many as 47 new members after the next term could be a big job for staff.

House Clerk Butch Speer, who has survived everything from a constitutional convention to a few rounds of redistricting, said the 2007 turnover required a nearly four-day orientation process, preceded by the training of 14 small groups of lawmakers between qualifying and Thanksgiving.

In terms of pure percentages, though, the biggest hit could be in the Senate, which may lose 26 of its 39 members by 2019, or 66 percent of the body. In the House, 58 percent may be lost by 2019 — or 61 representatives from the 105-member body.


Strain Picks Up Challenger

For his re-election bid this year, Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain has one announced opponent so far. Horticulturist Jamie LaBranche, a Democrat from LaPlace, is running on a platform of medical agriculture. That includes finding ways to develop a cannabis industry and new uses for certain varieties of poppy.

LaBranche ran in 2011, receiving 27 percent to Strain’s 66 percent.

New Suits Have Oil Fighting On Two Fronts

In a move that builds off the lawsuits filed by the parish councils in Jefferson and Plaquemines in 2013 against several oil companies, the Jones Swanson law firm quietly filed similar lawsuits in November, 2014, that have practically the same objectives but have landowners as the plaintiffs.

All the suits claim the oil companies violated the terms of their leases and drilling permits, thus causing land loss and saltwater intrusion.

The latest lawsuits, likewise based in Jefferson and Plaquemines, could reignite interest by lawmakers in trying to tackle the issue of suing oil companies over allegedly violating coastal zone regulations. An effort to do this failed in last year’s regular session.

One source said, “Everyone I know is assuming we’ll face those same questions in the Legislature this year. We’d be surprised if [we do] not.” Another source added, “They may not take it up. Maybe we’ll see some legacy issues, but they’ll be busy enough with the budget and everything else.”

The Jones Swanson strategy has lawsuit abuse advocates weaving a new “litigation racket” narrative for the coming months.

What legal observers really want to know is whether the Jones Swanson lawsuits, which are being directed by founding partner Gladstone Jones with the landowners as plaintiffs, will compete with or complement the earlier suits that use the parish governments as plaintiffs. These earlier suits were filed by Talbot, Carmouche and Marcello, led by partner Vic Marcello.

Jones’ lawsuits target 20 different oil companies — a few more when subsidiaries are included — for damages related to contamination and land loss. They are in state court.

Marcello’s suits involved 27 defendant oil companies. They’re on the federal level, although one case has been remanded to state court.

Observers are already questioning whether landowners can bring these suits, since the law states only four parties can trigger legal action: the secretary of the Dept. of Natural Resources, the attorney general, a district attorney or local governments with coastal zone programs.

But landowners are framing themselves as beneficiaries, and there are hopes that one strategy will aid the other.

If either approach is poised to spread, it may be the Marcello strategy. Sources say cases are still being built by the parish governments in Cameron and St. Bernard, and that defendant oil companies have already been identified.

There have been some hiccups, though, and both parishes have had to put their filings on pause. But that could change in 2015.

Regardless, it’s another big step in this field of law for Jones, who is representing the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East in its suit against more than 80 oil and gas companies.

District Judge Janice Clark has declared a law passed by the Legislature last year intended to stop the suit as unconstitutional. Jimmy Faircloth, representing Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state, has appealed to the Supreme Court.


Gubernatorial Candidates Build Teams

We already know what most of the candidates running for governor this fall raised in 2014. But we’re only beginning to learn what they’re spending it on.

Part of the money will be spent on campaign teams. Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle, a Republican from Breaux Bridge, is already spending cash on what he describes as an “energetic team.” Baton Rouge consultant Roy Fletcher will remain his media guru, while Ryan Cross, most recently a senior hand in 5th Congressional District campaigns, has been selected as manager and press handler.

Allie Bausch, a prolific GOP fundraiser, is on the finance side for Angelle. McLaughlin and Associates of New York will be the campaign’s polling firm.

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, a Baton Rouge Republican, said his campaign has hired Dave Carney of New Hampshire, a former White House political affairs director, to serve as manager. Old hand George Kennedy remains on board as general consultant.

Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research has been hired for Dardenne’s polling. Targeted Victory is overseeing analytics management and other digital efforts.

State Rep. John Bel Edwards of Amite, the only declared Democratic candidate, has been working with a local firm in Hammond on his media and web presence. The newest addition to his team is Jared Arsement of Lafayette, who’s taken on communications.

Edwards’ biggest move of late was purchasing a billboard near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. He said it was a “good opportunity that just came up.” But it’s difficult to miss the significance of the Amite lawmaker’s move into the backyard of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who has yet to rule out running for governor.

The support structure for U.S. Sen. David Vitter, a Metairie Republican, is a bit more complicated. Vitter’s campaign is not legally allowed to coordinate with the super PAC supporting the senator’s run. But the campaign will have one of its own inside the Fund for Louisiana’s Future this election cycle. Joel DiGrado, Vitter’s former communications director who was loaned out to run U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s 2014 campaign, will help steer the FFLF super PAC this year.

No full-time manager has been hired as of yet, but longtime chief of staff Kyle Ruckert, who ran Vitter’s 2010 re-election effort, is directing traffic at the moment.

Courtney Guastella, who has also worked with the FFLF super PAC in the past, is serving as Vitter’s finance director. Already analyzing the data is Gene Ulm of Public Opinion Strategies in Virginia.


McAllister For Senate?

Former Congressman Vance McAllister of Swartz is out of elected office, but not out of politics. He told LaPolitics recently that he would consider running for the U.S. Senate in 2016, depending on the circumstances.

Right now, those circumstances center around fellow Republican Congressman John Fleming of Minden, who is growing increasingly vocal about wanting the seat should incumbent Sen. David Vitter be elected governor.

“If (Fleming) is the only one running, I would consider it,” McAllister said. “I don’t have a problem being against another Republican if it’s the wrong kind of Republican running. We don’t need another Ted Cruz.”

The shot at the Texas senator is in reference to Fleming’s efforts to move the House further to the right, most recently evidenced by the congressman’s decision to leave the Republican Study Committee along with other conservatives to form a new group.

While McAllister may or may not have time to recover from his own scandal from last year (in which he was caught on video kissing an aide), not to mention his primary defeat, his entrance would definitely carve up north Louisiana for Fleming.

That would, in theory, open up south Louisiana for another Republican, such as Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette. His inner circle has been careful, on and off the record, about addressing the race, although it’s thought that Boustany is interested in the Senate. Admitting as much would do him little good as he’s presumably facing re-election again soon, and working the angles on the Hill for possible leadership spots in the future.


For more Louisiana political news, visit or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.