Politics 07.09.2008

Keaty nets $100,000 with a fund raiser, a possible Jindal staff shakeup and more

KEATY FUND RAISER NETS NEARLY $100,000 Judge Phyllis Keaty’s re-election campaign kicked off last week with a major fund raiser netting just under $100,000. The event, held at River Oaks’ Napoleon Ballroom, drew a crowd of approximately 350 people, including City-Parish President Joey Durel, Sheriff Mike Neustrom, state Sen. Don Cravins and state Sen. Nick Gautreaux. Keaty, a Republican, was first elected as a 15th Judicial District judge in 1998 and is a co-founder of the district’s Family Court. Keaty is up for re-election on the Oct. 4 ballot. Thus far, no other candidates have announced. Qualifying for the race ends July 11.

Nancy Landry, a local family law counselor who served as a clerk to Keaty for three years, chaired the fund raiser. Landry, also known for her narrow loss to Don Trahan in last year’s District 31 state representative race, recently launched the public affairs firm Pelican Strategies, which is managing Keaty’s campaign.

JINDAL STAFF SHAKEUP? Now that Gov. Bobby Jindal has vetoed the legislative pay raise, the biggest looming question is what the fallout will be with the Legislature — and possibly Jindal’s staff. Relations between legislators and Jindal’s staff were already on shaky ground prior to the pay raises exploding and dwarfing every other issue, and Jindal all but admitted that he’d governed the session in abstentia with his mea culpa last week. Jindal let his inner circle deal with the multiple brush fires that ignited in the first months of his administration, and it could be Jindal’s staff that winds up getting burned in the aftermath.

There’s already been one high-profile casualty, as Jindal’s legislative director, Tommy Williams, recently resigned after less than six months on the job. And in an Advocate column last week, editorial writer Lanny Keller made the case that Jindal Chief of Staff Timmy Teepell could be next in the line of fire. While stopping short of saying that Teepell should be fired, Keller makes clear that having a more seasoned, senior chief of staff could go a long way toward restoring the Jindal administration’s relationship with lawmakers. Further grist from the rumblings and rumor mill: veteran Louisiana political consultant Roy Fletcher thinks that Jindal’s Chief Counsel, Jimmy Faircloth, will be the first to go.

LEVEE FUNDING DEMAND UNDERMINES COASTAL RESTORATION Louisiana’s share of levee construction out of a $14.8 billion federal budget is $1.8 billion. Even more stunning than the sum is the time frame: the state needs to come up with the funds within 3 years. State coastal tzar Garret Graves says it’s an egregious amount for Congress to demand from Louisiana. “The bottom line is there is no way possible for the state of Louisiana to come up with the amount of money that Washington is asking of us,” Graves told The Times-Picayune.

Last week, a Senate plan that would have allowed Louisiana to pay its share of the levee costs over 30 years was stripped out of an Iraq war supplemental finance bill by the House and replaced by the 3-year provision. President Bush signed the bill, and Graves says the $1.8 billion payment would drain coastal restoration coffers, crippling dozens of wetlands projects already authorized by Congress.

NEW ETHICS LAW PLAYING FAVORITES The ethics “clean up” legislation Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law appears to play favorites with three legislators and their relatives. The special treatment came via legislation filed to fix flaws in ethics laws approved during Jindal’s February special session on ethics.
The special provisions benefit state Sen. John Smith, D-Leesville; state Rep. Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro; and state Rep. Rick Nowlin, R-Natchitoches.

One provision allows Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association President Chris John to lobby the Louisiana Legislature despite that his father-in-law, Sen. Smith, is a lawmaker and a member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee — which oversees much of the energy industry’s activities. It’s a new privilege designed specifically for John’s situation.

Another provision allows Ellington to keep his wife, Brenda, as his $54,000-a-year legislative assistant, an arrangement the Louisiana Board of Ethics and a district court said violated state conflict of interest and nepotism laws.

A third provision helps Nowlin’s engineering firm keep doing business with governmental entities. That business can continue through Jan. 7, 2012. The prior law would have prevented sustaining those relationships unless there was an ongoing contract.

Former Ethics Board member Mike Johnson told The Advocate the myriad exceptions makes Louisiana’s ethics laws “like a piece of Swiss cheese.”

“You don’t have a general law people can look to and understand,” he said.

Contributors: Scott Jordan, Nathan Stubbs, Leslie Turk and Mary Tutwiler