Politics 08.06.2008

Laura Bush to attend fundraiser and more First lady Laura Bush will be in Lafayette on Thursday, Aug. 14, for a fund-raiser on behalf of Republican U.S. Senate candidate John Kennedy. Local businessman Will Mills and his wife Sandra will be hosting the event at their Robley Drive home. Mills, who has been in the oil business and also owns MPW Properties, has been a major contributor and supporter of the Republican Party. Invitations say the event is paid for and authorized by the Kennedy Majority Committee, a joint fund-raising group established on behalf of John Kennedy for U.S. Senate Inc. and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Tickets are $1,000 per couple for the general reception and $2,500 per couple for a VIP photo reception.

The First Lady’s visit follows a fund-raiser President Bush headlined for Kennedy back in April. The White House attention underscores the national party’s interest in the race; several Republicans have identified Landrieu’s seat as the GOP’s best opportunity for a pickup in the Senate. Kennedy also has had his work cut out for him in keeping up with the incumbent Landrieu’s fund-raising machine.

In a fairly reliable red state, the Kennedy campaign wants to be viewed as part of the Republican establishment. The first lady helps the candidate to flaunt his newly-found conservative stripes (Kennedy switched from the Democratic to the Republican Party last year). At the same time, the campaign is hoping to group moderate Democrat Landrieu in with some of her more liberal supporters. Kennedy recently put out a press release highlighting a Landrieu fund-raiser being hosted by Mike Bloomberg, labeling the New York Mayor a “gun grabbing liberal.”

“The first lady has agreed to campaign because she believes in John Kennedy’s campaign for change in Louisiana,” says Kennedy campaign spokesman Kyle Plotkin. “I think the important thing here is the contrast that’s taking place. Mary Landrieu will be traveling to the upper east side of Manhattan to fund raise with Mike Bloomberg, who is quite liberal as everyone knows and opposes the Second Amendment, while John Kennedy is standing with First Lady Laura Bush.”

Bloomberg hosted a $1,000-a-head fund-raiser for Landrieu last Wednesday. The New York mayor is a former Democrat who switched to the Republican Party before being elected and is now an independent. He has praised Landrieu as a centrist who works with both parties.

DEMOCRATS TOUT CRAVINS Last week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a flowery announcement placing state Sen. Don Cravins Jr. of Opelousas in its “Emerging Races” column. It basically meant Cravins was garnering a decent amount of attention in his bid to unseat incumbent Congressman Charles Boustany, a Lafayette Republican.

Well, the DCCC then had a sudden change of heart and upgraded the Cravins-Boustany contest to its “Red to Blue” program. DCCC Chairman Van Hollen said in a press release that Democratic candidates move up into the next tier when individual fund-raising goals are surpassed and voter reaction steps up a notch. The status also brings along with it “financial, communications, and strategic support,” according to the DCCC’s Web site.

Van Hollen said the candidates in the program need all the help they can get. “With less than 100 days to make their case for change to voters in their districts, the Red to Blue program will give these candidates the financial and structural edge to be even more competitive in November,” he said.

In other campaign news, last week Cravins also earned the endorsements of the “Blue Dog” coalition of conservative Democratic congressmen and the Lafayette Parish Democratic Executive Committee. “We could not ask for a better candidate than state Sen. Don Cravins Jr.,” says Susannah Malbreaux, vice chairman of the LPDEC. “Don has consistently shown the true meaning of a southern Democrat, and we are backing him 100 percent.”

LOCALS REAPPOINTED TO COASTAL ADVISORY COMMISSION Gov. Bobby Jindal reappointed three Acadiana members to his special advisory commission on coastal affairs last week. Aside from advising Jindal on key issues, members of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation are charged with keeping tabs on the state’s overall efforts. Locally, the following Acadiana natives were tapped for the commission:

Paul McIlhenny of Avery Island, president and chief executive officer of the McIlhenny Company, serves as a representative of the business and industrial community.

Mark Piazza of Vermilion Parish and the mayor of Abbeville represents local governments on the commission.

Linda Zaunbrecher of Gueydan, a rice farmer and the former president of the Louisiana Rice Growers Association, represents the agriculture industry on the commission.

Elected officials such as the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate also serve on the panel. State Rep. Damon Baldone, a Houma Democrat, was among those asked to serve on the commission again. Baldone says that the coming term for members of the coastal commission will be pivotal.

The state is finally slated to begin receiving additional money from its offshore oil and gas royalties, which are earmarked for coastal protection and restoration. “The next few years are going to be extremely important,” says Baldone, who was first appointed to the commission by former Gov. Mike Foster. “The groundwork has been set, and we’re ready to really start moving forward. I hope we have a great working relationship with [Jindal] and that he listens to what the commission has to say because it’s a well-rounded group.”

Contributors: Jeremy Alford and Nathan Stubbs