Politics 03.12.2008

Cravins running for state party chairmanship; Michot, Tucker and Jindal host Trahan fund raiser and more

CRAVINS RUNNING FOR STATE PARTY CHAIRMANSHIP Former state senator and current Opelousas Mayor Don Cravins Sr. has thrown his hat in the ring for the state Democratic party’s top leadership position. Cravins is among six candidates seeking the chairmanship of the Democratic State Central Committee, along with current chairman and Baton Rouge attorney Chris Whittington, Vacherie attorney Paul Aucoin, former state Rep. William Sumlin of Simsboro, and Shreveport party officials Dr. Steve Kirkland and Larry Ferdinand. The committee, which currently has 165 members from across the state, will be voting to elect its new chairman on March 15. The state chairman directs the party’s agenda and helps oversee its staff. Lafayette Parish party Chair John Bernhardt says the three frontrunners would have to be the incumbent Whittington; Aucoin, who has close ties to U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu; and Cravins, who emerged last week as a popular alternative. “All three have the ability to run a very viable and successful campaign,” Bernhardt says.

Cravins recently decided to seek the position after being encouraged to do so by several members of the state Democratic Party. (He also flirted with the idea of running for chairman in 2004.) He says he has heard from people throughout the state who are dispirited by a general lack of leadership from the state party. “The common complaint is basically that the party has lost touch,” Cravins says, adding that Democrats need to be out on the forefront of issues like health care, education and affordable housing. “People are not going to be afraid to say that they’re a Democrat if we work diligently for issues that impact the lives of working people in our state.

“The problem that the party is having right now,” he continues, “regardless of who becomes the chairperson, is that they have a void and people seem to be looking for an alternative to the old establishment leadership. I’m feeling right now kind of like the compromise candidate and getting a pretty good response from throughout the state.”

MICHOT, TUCKER, JINDAL HOST TRAHAN FUND RAISER The Republican trio of State Sen. Mike Michot, Speaker of the House Jim Tucker and Gov. Bobby Jindal hosted a $500 per couple fund raiser for fellow Republican state Rep. Don Trahan last Thursday at Blue Dog Cafe on Pinhook Road.

Michot characterizes the event as a way to help re-build Trahan’s re-election war chest and a way to show unity in the Acadiana delegation. “A lot of legislators are having fund raisers right now,” he says. “Most of them spent all of their money on their campaigns.”

First elected in 2003, Trahan narrowly defeated independent Nancy Landry in the October primary to become the most senior member of the House from the Acadiana area. Tucker subsequently named him Education Committee chairman. “He’s in a key leadership position in the House,” Michot says.

Democratic and independent legislators also attended the event. “I’m working hard to see that we work together as a group and bring some funding to Acadiana,” says Michot, who chairs the powerful Senate Finance Committee. He says the Acadiana delegation won’t always see eye-to-eye but cites as an example the Lafayette delegation’s decision last week to collectively support the six-laning of U.S. Hwy. 90 from Pinhook Road to Albertson Parkway in Broussard. In calling his second special session, which started Sunday, Jindal asked the delegation if it could come together on a road project that would help Lafayette’s traffic problems, promising to earmark funding from the $1 billion state surplus.

Other projects considered were the widening of Verot School and Kaliste Saloom roads, but both of those improvements are in a waiting pattern for various reasons (underground sewage on Verot and ongoing negotiations with the state on Kaliste Saloom). “They’re not ready for extra funding right now,” Michot says. So the decision was made to support the Hwy. 90 widening, which means plans call for $20 million to be earmarked for the project in the special session. Had the lawmakers not been on the same page, they likely would not have received those surplus dollars, Michot says. “Not every part of the state got dollars toward a specific project.”

ANOTHER GREAT COMMUNICATOR? While Gov. Bobby Jindal may have set the bar high for ethics and transparency in his administration, it was already set low for oratory prowess when he took office. His Democratic predecessor, Kathleen Blanco, wasn’t known for compelling speeches.

In Jindal’s speech to open his second special session last Sunday, the Republican governor was interrupted no less than a dozen times by applause — and one quasi-standing ovation. When he told lawmakers that Louisiana’s good-government rankings had been boosted as a result of last month’s ethics session, his entire cabinet, seated at the back of the House chamber, clapped and rose to its feet. Representatives and senators kept to their seats.

Nonetheless, the speech was tightly written and welcomed warmly by lawmakers. Whether it was the recent comparison drawn by conservative mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh, Jindal also sounded quite Reaganesque in his address — declaring that “state government is in the way” of economic development and prompting cheers with repetitive one-liners.

Reading from a teleprompter on the Lower Chamber’s floor, Jindal illustrated problems, then urged lawmakers, “That must change.” The phrase was uttered seven times during his speech. In his last special session address in February, Jindal had another mantra for lawmakers: “Be bold.”

It seems to be a pattern for Jindal and mirrors the same rhythm used to perfection by former President Ronald Reagan, known as “The Great Communicator” by his GOP faithful. As for whether impassioned rhetoric will help Jindal pass his new legislative package, that’s an entirely different matter.

Contributors: Nathan Stubbs, Leslie Turk and Jeremy Alford