Couillon: Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser

The tourism chief is contrite following published reports of an epic boondoggle involving a too-good-to-be-true economic development deal with the Iraqi government.

Photo illustration by Walter Pierce
Map courtesy

Stephanie Grace of The Advocate calls it “whacky.” Political consultant and blogger Lamar White Jr. calls it “impeachable.”

They’re referring to blockbuster revelations made over the weekend by The Advocate’s Rebekah Allen and Richard Thompson that Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the chief tourism officer for the state of Louisiana, tried to broker a massive economic development deal between a Louisiana company, the old Avondale Shipyard and the Iraqi Government.

As Grace reports Monday:

Rather than simply sit down and figure out how to promote culture, recreation and tourism, Nungesser, working in cahoots with Louisiana’s longtime Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere, went way rogue, taking upon himself an attempt to land a budget-saving, 30,000-job, $1 billion deal that relies upon — get this — an exclusive agreement with the government of Iraq.

All without bothering to mention the grand plan to the man who’s really in charge, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat elected separately from the Republican Nungesser. And ignoring the fact that Nungesser has no authority over economic development, no right to speak for the governor and no place contacting the U.S. government, a national news organization or a foreign head of state on Edwards’ alleged behalf. And glossing over a pile of hints suggesting the whole project, which thankfully wouldn’t have put Louisiana taxpayers on the hook for any incentives, was at best farfetched.

As Allen and Thompson reported Sunday, the Iraqi minister who would’ve been the point man on the Euphrates says no such deal ever existed.

White, a loud and proud Democrat, finds the Republican Nungesser’s peccadillo less amusing than does Grace:

Nungesser, in letters he signed and sent to leaders of a foreign country and Secretary of State John Kerry, lied about his legal authority, lied about acting as a representative and emissary for Gov. Edwards, and even claimed that he was “the top economic development recruiter for Louisiana” in letters and at least one press release exclusively given, for some bizarre reason, to The Washington Post.

Nungesser pathetically claimed that he never really read the letters he was asked to sign on behalf of Roger Villere, whose connection to this particular deal should raise the red flags of the Justice Department and our U.S. Attorneys. Furthermore, Nungesser, perhaps even more pathetically, blamed his staff for the oversight, all while defending Roger Villere’s credibility. At the very least, this is a dereliction of duty.

Regardless of Nungesser’s half-hearted and far-too-late apology to Gov. Edwards, his actions represent gross misconduct in office and should be considered an impeachable offense.

Jan Moller, director of the nonprofit Louisiana Budget Project, finds the whole thing surreal, musing on Facebook that he “used to wonder what kind of person fell for those Nigerian prince email scams. This explains a lot.”