Politics 02.20.2008

Melancon's rise in power, Huckabee says La. primary's "goofy" and more

MELANCON VAULTS IN POWER RANKINGS ... The Independent Weekly noted last month in our story “Charlie at the Plate” that Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon is positioned to gain politically from the recent upheaval in Louisiana’s congressional delegation — meaning the retirements, prostitution scandal and federal corruption investigation involving various members. In the midst of the turmoil, two-term congressman Melancon has become a superstar in the state Democratic Party practically overnight. He’s led the House leadership on tours of his district, has a spot on the influential Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired Louisiana’s fabled D.C. Mardi Gras this year and is a superdelegate to the Democratic National Convention. Now others are noticing Melancon’s surge as well. Congress.org, a nonpartisan system, placed Melancon in the No. 144 position among the House’s 439 members in its annual power rankings. More impressive is the fact that Melancon was at No. 418 just two years ago. The big question is whether all the attention on Melancon will convince the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee that he’s the man to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter in 2010.

The list is based on 2007 performance, so Republican Gov. Jindal’s still included, as is now-retired Republican Richard Baker. Clocking in dead last — No. 439 out of 439 — is none other than Louisiana Democrat and albatross Bill “Dollar Bill” Jefferson, the only Congressman to earn a negative rating for power and effectiveness.

WISELY, JINDAL DROPS PLAN TO STERILIZE ETHICS INFO ... What has so far been among the most questionable proposals of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s ethics reform — a plan to allow closed-door settlements of ethics violations and advisory opinions to be sterilized of information that identifies the person requesting the opinion and other aspects of the case — now appears dead, at least for this special session. Opposed by state media and Louisiana Board of Ethics members who claimed the measure would fly in the face of Jindal’s supposed transparency push by making more of the board’s operations secretive and out of public view, the legislation was dropped by the Jindal administration last week.

In other business, however, the House and Governmental Affairs Committee approved another controversial part of Jindal’s plan to improve the public’s perception of state government. House Bill 41, which has been strongly criticized by Louisiana Ethics Board Chairman Hank Perret of Lafayette, shifts decision-making power away from the board to an administrative law judge. That one person (the chief of the state’s Division of Administrative Law is appointed by the governor) would decide the guilt or innocence of someone accused of an ethics or other violation under the board’s jurisdiction. In the existing system, 11 board members make that decision.

According to The Advocate, moving such decision-making power to the Division of Administrative Law would cost about $270,000 annually.

HUCKABEE: LA. PRIMARY IS “GOOFY” ... Mike Huckabee grabbed headlines for winning Louisiana’s Republican presidential primary on Feb. 9, but that’s all he won. Since no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in the contest, the 20 delegates that were up for grabs initially remained uncommitted, but now the bulk of them are going to frontrunner John McCain. Forty-three of Louisiana’s 47 delegates told The Associated Press they intend to vote for McCain. “It’s goofy,” Huckabee told The Times-Picayune. “Well, it’s Louisiana.” Huckabee also said that he didn’t campaign in the state because Louisiana state Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere “sent out a letter saying don’t bother.” Villere has endorsed the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, McCain.

Last month, the Louisiana Republican party held a caucus to elect delegates to its state convention. McCain declared victory in that caucus, though the top vote getter was actually an uncommitted slate of delegates who ran on an uncommitted “pro-life, pro-family” ticket.

Contributors: Jeremy Alford, Nathan Stubbs, Leslie Turk and Scott Jordan