Cover Story

Fresh From The Grinder

by Jeremy Alford

As the regular session wraps up this week, we recap the brightest and bawdiest moments with our 1st Golden Boudin Awards.

“There are two things you don’t want to see being made: Louisiana laws and boudin,” according to an ancient political proverb, revised and updated.

The scene in Baton Rouge isn’t quite fading to black yet, but as you read this sentence the credits are beginning to roll over the 2009 regular session. And with a wee bit of cinematic imagining, you can probably even see how the final frames are playing out.

Of course, it’s not really the end. It’s just the beginning. There’s going to be much more excitement and suspense during next year’s session sequel. Another billion-dollar shortfall promises to once again threaten education and health care, although oil prices (as unpredictable as ever) could surface as the conquering hero. But by most accounts, the fiscal tragedy will actually unfold over three years, meaning at least two more opportunities to choke on your popcorn.

To honor the best and worst performances from this year — the proverbial beginning of the end unless lawmakers and the administration have a surprising twist in store — we’re christening the 1st Annual Golden Boudin Awards.

Without further ado, here are this year’s winners:

Best Supporting Actor
Gov. Bobby Jindal

From rejecting transparency for his own office while simultaneously pushing it on others, to failing to come up with a tangible plan to help state government absorb a $1.3 billion shortfall, Jindal doesn’t seem to have the moxie yet to carry his own prime-time show. For now, and the foreseeable future, the governor is confined to a supporting role only, playing “Fredo Corleone” to the Legislature’s “Michael.”

Best Directors
House Speaker Jim Tucker and Senate President Joel Chaisson

When Jindal failed to lead in recent sessions, it has been Tucker, R-Terrytown, and Chaisson, D-Destrehan, who have picked up the slack. Especially this year, Tucker and Chaisson pointed the way for lawmakers, albeit in seemingly different directions. While Tucker was insistent on deep cuts to deal with the state’s shortfall, Chaisson oversaw a mutiny to raise taxes against Jindal’s wishes. Tucker created a special commission to investigate reforming higher education when Jindal faltered at offering his own plan, and Chaisson stepped up to save Jindal from an in-session veto-session by holding the state budget an extra day before signing off on the document, thus giving Jindal enough time to stall until the session’s June 25 deadline.

Best Anti-Governor
Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu

Earlier in the session, Landrieu was among the first state officials to frame Louisiana’s current economic crisis as a three-year challenge, and he discussed tax-related proposals with the Baton Rouge Press Club before most lawmakers were ready to discuss revenue-generating measures. The New Orleans Democrat has also had years of experience with budgeting-for-outcomes and was eager to reveal to reporters the shell game being played by the Jindal administration. All of the posturing and positioning, though, led many to wonder if Landrieu was eyeing Jindal’s job. Not so, he says. “I’m focused on being lieutenant governor. I’m just trying to provide information.”

Best Guest Appearance(s)
Former Govs. Dave Treen, Buddy Roemer, Mike Foster and Kathleen Blanco

When four former governors decided to hold an intervention for Jindal to criticize his leadership and budget priorities, the political world — at least in Baton Rouge — stopped spinning for a moment. Rumor has it that the four former governors were prepared to issue a statement on their own until Jindal found out. The current governor acted quickly, invited them over for a chat and participated in a joint press conference that made him appear less foolish than he would have.

Biggest Mouth
Rep. Juan LaFonta

In the last row of the House, LaFonta, D-New Orleans, holds forth during session, spinning around in his chair to chat with lobbyists before twisting once again to offer scoop to reporters. He’s an unapologetic loud mouth, a quality that’s only enhanced by his youth. LaFonta also managed to cast votes during a 10-hour session in the House when he was traveling out of the country (his seat mates helped out by pushing his buttons). Here are a few other examples of his bravado from the recent session:

“There’s the company man.” — said as Rep. Austin Badon, D-New Orleans, approached the microphone on the House floor.

“I like that rainbow tie. I know you down with the gay people.” — a comment made to Rep. Rickey Hardy, D-Lafayette, who happened to be wearing a colorful necktie that day.

“It’s getting pretty close to communism.” — responding to a question about the Jindal administration.

“Go tell the boy wonder I don’t want any more notes from his office.” — to a young page after receiving several slips of paper from Jindal’s lobbying team.

“They’ve already greased the wheels and oiled the skillet.” — from the morning the House unexpectedly approved Jindal’s budget without objecting to the changes made by the Senate.

Louisiana Senate chamber

Photo by Robin May

Best Amendment
Sen. Troy Hebert

After Hebert, D-Jeanerette, repeatedly failed to attach an amendment to the state’s budget, he offered this one to the Senate for consideration: “The Louisiana State Senate would like to commend and congratulate the mothers and grandmothers of this state for the sacrifices they have made in raising, nurturing and shepherding the children of our great state.” Hebert laughed along with his colleagues as the amendment was read, then warned, “Y’all vote against that one.”

Best Resignation
Sen. Reggie Dupre

Like other term-limited lawmakers, Dupre, D-Bourg, had been looking for his next step when the session started and found it when a levee director’s job opened up back home. When he sealed the deal, Dupre picked up a cocktail napkin from the Senate dining hall and wrote two words on it before handing the napkin over to Chaisson, as dictated by law. It read simply, “I quit.” Chaisson, though, wouldn’t accept the resignation. “He told me to put it on paper,” Dupre says.

Best Pork for Pigskin
The New Saints Deal

“Does that mean we can get our money back?”

— Rep. Karen St. Germain, D-Plaquemine, upon learning that the Saints would be hosting a future Superbowl.

“If Edwin Edwards had cut this deal there would be federal investigations everywhere.”

— Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, on the deal Jindal cut with the Saints requiring the state to lease office space from franchise owner Tom Benson.

Best Sleight of Hand
Rep. Avon Honey

Rep. Avon Honey, D-Baton Rouge, was on the receiving end of a few verbal smack-downs this session for sneaking an amendment by the House to override Jindal’s refusal to accept $98 million in unemployment assistance from the federal stimulus package. In response, Rep. Erich Ponti, R-Baton Rouge, took to the floor of the House. “My trust was breached,” Ponti told lawmakers. It created an instant sensation in the Red Stick delegation. For his part, however, Honey never made a public reply. Of course, he never had to because Rep. Michael Jackson, an independent from Baton Rouge, made a fiery speech from the floor defending Honey. Among other things, he accused Ponti of going after the limelight. “Maybe it was playing to the media. Maybe it was playing to the Fourth Floor,” Jackson said. “But we do not impugn the reputation of our colleagues.”

Sen. Troy Hebert, left, & Sen. Reggie Dupre, far right

Photo by Robin May

Best Team Work
The legislative delegations from Baton Rouge and Houma

A political sleight-of-hand helped Rep. Michael Jackson, an independent from Baton Rouge, move a tax increment financing bill off the House floor this year. Jackson originally attempted to attach his TIF project onto legislation by Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, but House members rejected the move for a variety of reasons by a vote of 53-37. Later in the same afternoon, lawmakers, by a margin of 66-14, voted down a completely unrelated measure by Rep. Gordon Dove, R-Houma, which tinkers with civil service rules in Terrebonne Parish. While both bills appeared dead as evening approached, Jackson unexpectedly took to the floor and persuaded the House to reconsider its vote on Dove’s civil service bill. When the second vote was taken, another 16 yea votes materialized, including several from the Baton Rouge delegation. That final vote was 82-9 on Dove’s legislation. When Jackson subsequently pulled his own legislation off the calendar for reconsideration (it creates the same TIF district as his original amendment), the legislation picked up an additional — and identical — 16 yea votes, including many from Dove’s Houma-Thibodaux delegation. In the end, it passed by a surprising vote of 53-28, proving there’s always more than one way to resurrect a lifeless bill in the Legislature.

Best Feud
Rep. Gordon Dove vs. Sen. Troy Hebert

This will be one to watch in coming years. When Hebert filed legislation to create new restrictions for demolition debris facilities near airports, aimed specifically at stopping the expansion of detractor Gordon Doerle’s landfill at the foot of the runway of the Acadiana Regional Airport in Iberia Parish, he probably had no idea he was about to start a major legislative battle. Rumor has it that Hebert, in part, filed the legislation to foil a business venture being launched by his old political enemy, former Republican state Sen. Craig Romero of New Iberia. But when his bill made it to the Natural Resources Committee, Hebert discovered a surprising alliance between Chairman Dove, R-Houma, and Romero, who are close friends. In short, Dove shelved the bill, partly because it impacted his own Terrebonne Parish as well. Hebert, though, did get his revenge. Using a procedural rule, Hebert spent a few days sidetracking every bill pending action on the Senate floor that was sponsored by a member of the committee. He also stuck his fingers in every measure authored by Dove — a policy jab that continued through the last week of the session.

Worst Sales Pitch
Rep. Hollis Downs

“This is not about a company in any kind of trouble, except that its owner closed it down.”

— Downs, R-Ruston, sugar-coating the current and future prospects of the former Pilgrim’s Pride poultry plant in north Louisiana. Gov. Bobby Jindal had the Legislature rewrite state incentive laws to lure Foster Farms of California into buying the shuttered operation.

Legislative Liaison Scott Angelle and Rep. Avon Honey

Photo by Robin May

Best Use of a Loaded Pun
Rep. John Bel Edwards

“He already had six donuts, three cokes, two candy bars and I think I just saw Rep. Wooton hand him a pistol.”

— Edwards, D-Amite, introducing his young son to the House. Wooton, R-Belle Chasse, unsuccessfully pushed legislation this session that would have allowed concealed weapons on college campuses.

Best Use of Propaganda
Division of Administration

Sen. Robert Adley, R-Benton, also went after the Division of Administration this year for its blog known as The Ledger. Michael DiResto, the division’s communications director, has been using the blog in recent months to tell the administration’s side of the story when it comes to budget issues. Adley, though, read more than most into those words. “This is a Web site where the taxpayers pay for it. It’s a Web site where the writers who write on it draw a state salary,” Adley said. “It’s against the law.” DiResto immediately released a prepared statement: “When we announced The Ledger, we said that this would be a blog format to provide a frank and clarifying mode of communicating. In fact, many state and federal officials have taken to this format, through the development of Internet technology to support their governmental efforts ... The Ledger is not political and has not included any request that anyone vote one way or another on any issue.”

Lifetime Achievement
Sen. John Alario

As far as we know, Sen. John Alario, D-Westwego, is the only member of the Legislature with a part of the state Capitol named after him (Alario Hall). He’s also the ideal anti-governor, but only recently started to criticize Jindal for being directionless. Moreover, Alario is among the last of the red hot poppas, having first been elected to the House in 1972. In two and a half years, when several Senate members make their exit due to term limits, Alario will likely be on his second term — officially — which is why he’s already the frontrunner to become the next Senate president.

Best Watchdog
C.B. Forgotston

We close this year’s 1st Annual Golden Boudin Awards with Hammond attorney C.B. Forgotston, who also formerly served as chief counsel to the budget-drafting Appropriations Committee. It doesn’t take much for Forgotston to let loose on lawmakers, but one comment in particular really got him fired up. In this instance, and many others, Forgotston wrote what the common man (or mullet, as he likes to say) was thinking. It all touched off with a comment from Rep. Roy Burrell, D-Shreveport, who told his colleagues, “No matter what you think, the people are not as dumb as you think they are.” Forgotston responded in-kind, posing a question that could come back up when lawmakers seek re-election in 2011. “Exactly how dumb do you think we are?” he asked.