Politics 02.27.2008

Locals maintain edge in state GOP, Regents wants Clausen and more

LOCALS MAINTAIN EDGE IN STATE GOP ... Two of Lafayette’s best known Republicans have retained their upper-echelon status with the state GOP. At last Saturday’s GOP State Central Committee meeting in Baton Rouge, Charlie Buckels was elected vice-chairman of the party. Buckels, who was defeated by Democrat Dale Bayard in a 2007 run for District 7 BESE representative, was previously treasurer.

Local banker Ross Little Jr., meanwhile, was re-elected national committeeman. It’s a coveted title that means Little is one of three Louisianians (along with the party’s chairman and national committeewoman) who will represent the state’s interests at the two annual meetings held by the Republican National Committee.

In political terms, Little’s position also brings with it a fund-raising element, so he’s one of the folks to know if you need conservative cash.

Together, Buckels and Little likewise hold seats on the state party’s executive committee, where controversial decisions and endorsements are often made.

Party Chairman Roger Villere also sailed to re-election this weekend, while former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle was selected as the new treasurer.

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, REGENTS WANTS CLAUSEN ... Hell, Gomer Pyle wouldn’t even be been surprised by this one. We called it last May: UL System President Sally Clausen supports Commissioner of Higher Education T-Joe Savoie for the UL presidency, and then she gets his job. Like clockwork, last week the Board of Regents’ committee charged with finding a new commissioner of higher education voted unanimously to recommend Clausen to the full board. There won’t even be a search. In a press release, this is what the Board of Regents had to say about its potential new boss (who was commissioner of higher education in 1988):

“Last December, the committee began deliberately and carefully to evaluate the pros and cons of conducting a national search, even to the point of seeking out a highly-respected national consultant, but everything we’ve looked at confirms that we already have one of the best candidates we could hope to find right here in our midst,” said search committee chairman Roland Toups. “Based on the direct experience many on our board have had working closely with Dr. Clausen over the years, coupled with Dr. Clausen’s stellar national reputation and strong recommendations by a range of national higher ed experts that she be considered, it became clear that there was no compelling reason to look beyond Sally Clausen. I am convinced that she gives us the best chance of maintaining the momentum Louisiana postsecondary education has developed over the past decade under Commissioner Savoie.”

All that remains for our conspiracy theory to be complete is for Jimmy Clarke, Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s former chief of staff, to get Sally’s old job. Unless, of course, Gov. Bobby Jindal decides enough is enough.

IS MCCOLLISTER’S SACRIFICE A POLITICAL DONATION? ... During a sometimes-touchy hearing last week, a Senate committee surmised that a bill co-sponsored by lawmakers from Thibodaux and New Orleans had everything and nothing to do with Gov. Bobby Jindal. House Bill 89 would only allow the individuals who have been charged with violating campaign finance or ethics laws to pay the related fines. On paper, it was just another ethics reform bill for the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee, but the political back story may have played a role in its defeat.

After Jindal’s campaign failed to timely report an $118,000 donation from the Louisiana Republican Party last year, Baton Rouge Business Report publisher and Jindal campaign treasurer Rolfe McCollister Jr. offered to personally pay the pending fine, which could reach as high as $2,500. Under the proposed legislation by independent Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard and Democrat Karen Carter Peterson, such third-party payments would be prohibited.

New wrinkles surfaced during the debate about whether McCollister’s payment of Jindal’s fine would constitute a political donation. If it would, then McCollister might be prohibited from paying the fine if it exceeds the personal donor cap in state law, says Sen. Mike Walsworth, a Republican from West Monroe. A review of Jindal’s campaign finance records indicates that McCollister, at least personally, would be in the clear under these circumstances.

Still, one question remains: Is it a donation? Richard Sherburne, administrator of the state Ethics Board, said his office would take the check regardless, but he wasn’t sure if the money would count as a donation and would have to be reported as such. “I think the board would have to take a closer look at that,” he says.

While Jindal appears to be at the heart of the issue, speaker pro tem of the House Peterson disagrees. She says she was “incredibly offended” by media reports suggesting that the governor was the primary target of her efforts. “There have been accusations made that this is an attempt to embarrass someone or to make someone look bad,” Peterson says. “That’s not how I operate.”

The bill’s still alive in some respects. Peterson also amended three other bills moving through the special session with her proposal, meaning the issue could potentially reach the Senate floor without another committee hearing.

LFT PREPS LEGISLATIVE AGENDA ... One of Louisiana’s biggest unions, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers, is girding up to have its legislative agenda ready for the start of the March 31 regular session of the Louisiana Legislature. LFT has launched a six-week online survey of its 18,000-plus members and compiled the first week’s results.

The results cite inadequate teacher salaries, overemphasis on standardizing testing and more as barriers to teacher recruiting and retention. (LFT asked members to pick three out of eight multiple-choice answers, with “inadequate compensation” one of the options.)

While LFT’s legislative agenda is still being hammered out, the issue of teacher pay will always be a top priority. “Instead of saying we want X amount of dollars, we want people to do what politicians have been saying for years: we have to dedicate a constant stream of revenue so we can predict what teacher raises will be down the line,” says LFT spokesman Les Landon. “It’s ridiculous that teachers have to have a demonstration every few years at the Capitol to draw attention to the issue.”
Contributors: Jeremy Alford, Scott Jordan and Leslie Turk_