By Jeremy Alford and Mitch Rabalais
Legislation to pave the way for another constitutional convention in Louisiana failed to get approval from the House last year. But a respected public policy organization still intends to keep the issue on the front burner in 2019.
For more than six decades, the Public Affairs Research Council produced guides for voters and underwritten policy papers for legislators and provided testimony on a variety of topics, often with a good government bent.
Fundamental law has been a focus, as well, dating back, most notably, to the Louisiana Constitution that was ratified in 1974. Although PAR had a voice in many of the proceedings, they failed attempts to rewrite the charter.
In a recent interview for a feature in The Tuesday Tracker, PAR President Robert Travis Scott said that policy lineage will stretch into what should be an active campaign cycle this year.
“PAR will present a set of principles and recommendations,” he said. “Overall, it will be an invaluable source of information and guidance for this very important debate we’re having over the Constitution. It will elevate the level of discussion, and it will drive us in a worthwhile direction.”
While PAR will keep the issue alive in the public, it’s possible the topic of another convention won’t surface during the upcoming regular session of the Legislature. Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, has championed the issue for years, but doesn’t plan to file another related bill this year.
PAR will also address the state’s infrastructure needs during its annual conference in Baton Rouge. The event, “Transportation and Infrastructure: The Future of Louisiana Commerce,” is set for April 11.
Union Pacific Chairman and CEO Lance Fritz is slated to give the conference’s keynote address, joining a gubernatorial forum and a set of “PAR Talks” on the agenda.
Gubernatorial Candidates Nearly Staffed Up
The three declared candidates for governor are still in the process of building their respective staffs. But the incumbent is shouldering the additional burden of having to juggle personnel in his administration.
The most notable change for Gov. John Bel Edwards comes in the form of Richard Carbo, the former deputy chief who’s now serving as campaign manager. Linda Day, Edwards’ 2015 campaign manager, will be on staff as a senior advisor.
Two other veterans from the 2015 race, media consultant Jared Arsement and turnout constant Ben Jeffers, will be returning to their old posts.
Fresh faces include pollsters John Anzalone and Zach McCrary, digital strategist Julie Ager and finance director Katie Penland, who comes to the team from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. She’ll be working with Emilie Tenenbaum, who has handled the governor’s fundraising since 2016.
Congressman Ralph Abraham’s effort will be led by campaign manager John Vick, who previously worked for U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and the Republican Party of Virginia.
Courtney Alexander, a former staffer for Abraham’s congressional office and U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy’s 2014 campaign, will be taking over as the campaign’s political director, while Bill Skelly and Causeway Solutions will be handling polling and data analysis.
As previously reported, Lionel Rainey III will be Abraham’s general consultant, while fundraiser Allee Bautsch Gruenwald will be tasked with keeping the doctor’s war chest full.
Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone has named Bryan Reed as his campaign chief. Reed was previously the deputy political director for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Sarah Harbison, who formerly worked for U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and Treasurer John Schroder, is the crew’s new political director. And veteran fundraiser Sally Nungesser will be building the campaign kitty.
Tony Fabrizio, who was the chief pollster for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, will be crunching the numbers for Rispone, too.
Your Political History: Underworld Politics
While the late Carlos Marcello was best known as a lynchpin in the world of New Orleans organized crime for three decades, he also had more than a few political connections, both documented and rumored.
Targeted by late Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy during the early 1960s, Marcello reportedly spent considerable resources attempting to influence politicians in Baton Rouge,
“Anytime a politician goes in there, he wants money,” he told associates in a conversation recorded by the FBI.
According to Mafia Kingfish by John H. Davis, Marcello was introduced by an associate to a California insurance executive who was pursing government contracts.
The “executive,” however, was actually an FBI informant and his “associates” were undercover agents, all wired to record the dealings.
Working his political connections, Marcello angled for the company to get a lucrative life insurance contract for state employees.
In this particular instance, that meant cutting a deal with Commissioner of Administration Charles E. Roemer II that included a $129,000 cash bribe, plus a percentage of monthly profits.
In a series of clandestine meetings in hotel rooms in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the FBI taped Roemer taking cash from Marcello’s associates. Both men were indicted, however, before the insurance contract received final approval. Both were later convicted, as well.
Fleming Considering Run For Governor
Former Congressman John Fleming of Minden, who’s currently serving as the federal deputy assistant secretary of health information technology reform, is seriously considering jumping into the race for governor, according to several sources.
Friends of the Webster Parish resident add that he has not yet set a timetable for making a final decision.
Fleming’s ability to engage in political activities is limited due to his current job in President Donald Trump’s administration.
If Fleming were to run for governor, he would have to resign his post before assembling any type of a campaign apparatus.
The White House raised eyebrows by resubmitting Fleming’s nomination to a post in the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Trump initially tapped Fleming last year. But he did not get a confirmation vote before the adjournment of the 115th Congress.
Besides incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards, Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone and Congressman Ralph Abraham have officially declared their candidacies. Sen. Sharon Hewitt of Slidell is expected to make a final decision soon, as well.
New Political Shop At LABI
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, an influential voice at the Capitol in Baton Rouge, is transitioning into the 2019 elections cycle by repositioning key staffers and adding new resources to its political operations.
The most noticeable change comes courtesy of data guru John Diez, who’s making his lance free again by trading in his title as political director for an outside consulting contract.
Bo Staples has also been hired as LABI’s new director of political action committees, which means he’s now the point man for NORTHPAC, EASTPAC, SOUTHPAC and WESTPAC.
Staples may be best known for his work with the Louisiana Republican Party. But he has worked for U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and other politicos.
LABI president Stephen Waguespack said it was another step in the association’s evolution.
“The reality is our political world has changed, the challenge is more demanding, and our approach must evolve to meet that new demand,” he said.
A few other names are being pulled in as part of the political operations, including Courtney Baker for strategic fundraising, Marie Centanni as head of the Louisiana Free Enterprise Institute, Mariah Manuel as political manager and Renee Amar as deputy PAC director.
As for what happens on the ground, LaPolitics asked Waguespack and Diez if LABI would play as hard locally in 2019 as it did in 2018.
“Local issues impact state issues, so there’s a benefit to getting involved on that level,” said Waguespack. “But it just depends on the issue.”
Diez added that term limits have made it a necessity for associations to begin looking more local. “It has also made recruiting all the more important,” he said.
The Deal With The Dean
LaPolitics reported in December on who might emerge next term as dean of the House. The role is assigned to the body’s longest-serving member, who in turn gets to say he or she holds the title while occasionally chairing certain budget hearings.
“As of now, it’s gonna be me,” said Democratic Rep. Robby Carter of Amite, who first served from 1996 to 2008 before returning to the House two years ago.
At dispute is the definition of seniority. House Clerk Butch Speer believes there are no set rules and representatives should be able to craft the process as they see fit.
“The House Republicans could always change those rules whenever they want,” said Carter, a Democrat from St. Helena Parish.
According to House rules, the gig goes to the member with the “most years of service.” But Carter noted that HR 2.2 qualifies that the member must be someone “who served in the House in the preceding term.”
He argued that the intent of the rule, passed in 2007 by former Rep. Rick Gallot, was to keep migrating senators from crossing Memorial Hall and taking over. “There [were] questions then about who might be coming back,” Gallot told LaPolitics. “It was an effort to clarify that the dean was somebody who was in the body currently.”
Given how much the position of clerk appears to be changing, and the partisan foothold in the lower chamber, this could become an intriguing issue to follow — and a signal of what’s to come in legislative politics.
They Said It
“As we say in Louisiana, you’re as mean as a mama wasp.” — U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, to Attorney General nominee Bill Barr, on CNN
“They love to go where movies were shot and people were shot.” — Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, on film tourism, at the Baton Rouge Press Club
“If you are a mayor and you shut down the government, they would put you in the ground, figuratively, within 24 hours.” — Former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, on the government shutdown, on MSNBC
“You know they’re all kind of like Marvin in Pulp Fiction. You know they just got shot in the face and they didn’t do anything wrong.” — U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, on government workers, on CNN
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.