Peep Goat

Peep Goat 08.12.09

The conviction this past week of former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson (affectionately nicknamed “Dollar Bill” by his arch rival, former New Orleans Mayor Dutch Morial) closes another painful chapter of corruption in Louisiana politics. Although the highly intelligent, Harvard-educated Jefferson represented New Orleans, his political network was statewide, as was the impact of his actions. On the local Acadiana level, Jefferson was very close to Opelousas Mayor Donald Cravins (both of whom served in the Louisiana Senate), as well as Acadian Ambulance CEO Richard Zuschlag, whom Jefferson selected to be King of Washington Mardi Gras in 2005 to reign over the event with his daughter.

Jefferson also had other less dubious connections to Acadiana. According to a well placed source familiar with the situation, Jefferson, as a state Senator in 1988, was the architect of the Senate coup that dethroned the late Sen. Allen Bares as president of the state Senate and replaced him with Sen. Sammy Nunez, an Edwin Edwards ally. It spelled the beginning of the end for Buddy Roemer’s reform agenda as governor. By a vote of 20 to 19, Bares, the governor’s hand-picked Senate president, was ousted. According to the same source, the Senate was deadlocked for weeks at 19 to 19 behind the scenes, until Jefferson was able to convince one undecided senator to join the anti-Bares effort. That senator’s name: Mike Foster of Franklin. Yes, it’s the same Mike Foster who went on the become governor in 1995. Of equal irony, and a testament to Jefferson’s loyalty to no one, is the fact that Gov. Foster’s opponent for re-election as governor in 1999 was none other than Congressman William Jefferson. “It’s not personal; it’s only business,” a moniker used frequently in the movie The Godfather, applied in all aspects of the Jefferson famiglia dealings. William Jefferson’s political life had more plot twists and examples of double crossing than a spy novel.

Some who know Jefferson point to one seminal moment they believe led to Jefferson’s downward spiral: the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress. Prior to that time, Jefferson enjoyed being in the Democratic majority, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and one of then-President Bill Clinton’s closest friends in Congress. With the Newt Gingrich-led “Contract with America” that ousted the Democratic majority, Jefferson’s power in Congress washed away like a sand castle on a beach. It was at that point some say Jefferson lost his focus on governing, and instead dedicated his congressional energy to incubating deals for his family. As Jefferson reportedly commented while burying his head in his hands when the FBI raided his home four years ago and retrieved $90,000 in bribe money from his freezer, “What a waste.”

No literary giant could have written a more appropriate epitaph.

In the ’80s and early ’90s it became a cult phenomenon for odd characters to don costumes imitating the stars of the show and attend weekend performances (usually at midnight ) of The Rocky Horror Picture Show at a local theater. It was a truly bizarre era in American culture, which was repeated on a weekly basis at movie theaters for quite some time. History seems to be repeating itself with Gov. Bobby Jindal’s “Louisiana Working Tour,” which Jindal has pledged to take to all 64 parishes — repeating the same script at every stop. First, he starts by signing an oversized check to fund some public works project in the area, some of which is paid for with federal stimulus funds (which he denounces while on his national speaking circuit). Then he calls up all local legislators to accept the check, making the perfect photo-op for the hometown paper. And every week, people keep coming out to see the show.

Lafayette’s iteration, hosted at the Holidome on Evangeline Thruway a few weeks ago, may have been the most wacky. In the main event the governor parades out “real Louisianans” who have been helped by his policies, who simply stand, smile and nod as the governor describes how his actions have forever changed their existence on earth. Sort of like a Constituent Petting Zoo or Post Faith Healing Reunion between Miracle Worker and afflicted. Then the Louisiana State Police helicopter powers up, and it’s off to the next town. Interestingly, not a single member of the Lafayette legislative delegation was mentioned or thanked by Jindal in his speech (including Senate Finance Chairman Mike Michot). Neither did any of the legislators speak or offer praise for Jindal at the event. It was all Bobby, all the time.

The tragedy in this is that some combination of political handlers, national aspirations or bad political advice is depriving Louisiana of having the benefit of Bobby Jindal’s true talents. His work in health care (on the state and national level) and higher education have given him a perspective that no governor in history had the benefit of when taking office. His election mandate has given him the ability to mold, like a potter, a new delivery design system for both. But fear of the political capital to be expended or negative stories being written by the national media while undertaking such an effort have kept Jindal from leading in either area, despite his ability to do so. Rather than continue to use the talents that got him where he is today in public life, he is instead playing like a team with a big lead: don’t score more points, just play defense.

Louisiana needs more, expects more. And Bobby Jindal is capable of delivering more than this tired, scripted theater.

As I predicted in May and June — when I came back to report that she was a shoo-in (or should I say shoe-in?) — Alexandria attorney/Louisiana State Bar Association President Beth Foote was nominated to the U.S. Western District federal judgeship position by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Also as I predicted, current Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley was nominated, along with north Louisiana attorney John Belton, for the U.S. attorney position. Sources say Finley is the inside choice — that Belton’s name was merely submitted to prevent a white male backlash. President Barack Obama ultimately makes the appointments. Former head of Louisiana State Police Henry Whitehorn of Alexandria was nominated to the position of U.S. marshal