America Rising Squared and America Rising PAC have been reaching out to reporters in Louisiana on a regular basis since December to push alternative takes on stories involving Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Budget stories and the administration’s approach to revenue have been the focus so far.
The conservative group, which largely plays in national politics, is no stranger to Louisiana’s federal races. But its interest in a statewide post is something new.
Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for America Rising Squared, says his organization “likes to keep tabs on all Democrats running for or in office and seeks to highlight their vulnerabilities.” But he adds that Edwards is near the top of its list in terms of governors around the country.
“Obviously, John Bel Edwards is going to be a ripe target through 2019, so we definitely plan to keep tabs on him for now and make sure that people in Louisiana and across the country see that he’s taking the state in the wrong direction,” says Adler.
COOPER: BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER A ‘TOP PRIORITY’
Mark Cooper says his most important task as Gov. John Bel Edwards’ incoming chief of staff will be to unite people.
That theme applies politically to the volatile landscape of the Louisiana Legislature and more practically to a state still reeling from police-involved shootings and recent natural disasters.
“That’s the top priority,” Cooper says in early February from his office in Arkansas, where he works as the senior director of global emergency management at Walmart.
Cooper will become Edwards’ new chief of staff during the third week of March, but he’s already studying the state budget and had a set of meetings scheduled in Baton Rouge in mid-February.
For now it’s all about policy and politics; he doesn’t have any plans for staffing changes.
“That’s not my intent,” Cooper says. Cooper first connected with Edwards last year when both gave speeches to the National Governors Association. But he officially interviewed for the post being vacated by former state Sen. Ben Nevers around mid-January.
He says he was well past the point of being homesick at the time, and the opportunity to get involved again in “crisis leadership” appealed to him.
“I want to be a part of that rebuilding process from last year’s floods. I felt the same way after Hurricane Katrina,” he says. “Louisiana is in my blood. I just want to help with some of these very real problems.”
Cooper was the director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness under former Gov. Bobby Jindal.
That Edwards campaigned against Jindal, and has blamed him for many of the state’s budget challenges, has not been missed by politicos.
Yet Cooper says his approach to public service has never been based on party — he also previously worked for late U.S. Sen. Russell Long and former Gov. Buddy Roemer.
“Most people don’t care what party you’re in,” he notes. “They just want you to solve problems.”
The governor’s chief of staff is traditionally among the most powerful positions in state government.
RACE TO REPLACE VILLERE HEATS UP
Roger Villere, the chairman of the Louisiana Republican Party, tells LaPolitics he will not seek re-election and that the state central committee will likely hold an election for his replacement during the first quarter of 2018.
Scott Wilfong, a consultant from Baton Rouge, has been actively campaigning for the post and has helped kickstart the race. But he’s not alone.
Charlie Buckels of Lafayette, a longtime party player, says he will run for the top post as well when Villere steps down.
It should be a competitive race, especially for a post that hasn’t been vacant in 14 years. Villere, who will be turning his attention to his florist business and possibly consulting, is actually the longest serving state GOP chairman in the nation at this time.
Possibly taking a cue from the Louisiana Democratic Party, which has Sen. Karen Carter Peterson as its chair, some party faithfuls are encouraging elected officials to consider running. The names of Rep. Barry Ivey and Sen. Beth Mizell, for instance, have been mentioned.
Others said to be considering a run for the job include Scott McKnight, Derek Babcock and Louis Gurvich.
STOKES STAFFS UP, ANNOUNCES FOR TREASURER
GOP Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner has announced her campaign for treasurer and is already fully staffed up.
Stokes hired the Political Firm as her general and media consultants — this the same firm that handles media for Majority Whip Steve Scalise. She has also hired Jason Redmond as her campaign’s senior adviser for policy, fundraising and day-to-day operations.
Greg Rigamer has been retained to provide data and targeting expertise, and Nicole Desormeaux will oversee both in-state and national fundraising events. Brent Barksdale of GoBig Media will be handling digital communications and advertising.
SCHRODER LAUNCHES WHISTLEBLOWER WEBSITE
As lawmakers prepare for a set of legislative sessions where the budget will take center stage, Rep. John Schroder’s campaign for treasurer has quietly launched a new website — StopLouisianaWaste.com — that allows anyone to “anonymously report state waste.”
“We talk about state government waste, but we don’t really know how bad it is or how deep it goes,” Schroder says. “I intend to find out.”
For more Louisiana political news, visit www.LaPolitics.com or follow Jeremy Alford on Twitter @LaPoliticsNow.