Thousands rail against moratorium at 'dome rally

by Walter Pierce

Upwards of 11,000 people streamed into the Cajundome Wednesday afternoon to hear a succession of speakers take aim at the federal moratorium.

Photos by Robin May

Upwards of 11,000 people streamed into the Cajundome Wednesday afternoon to hear a succession of speakers take aim at the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling that threatens ruin on the Louisiana economy. In a red parish of a red state where the oil industry employs tens of thousands, the moratorium is a fat, stationary target, and the speakers - Gov. Bobby Jindal, interim Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle, City-Parish President Joey Durel, Louisiana Oil & Gas Association President Don Briggs and a host of other politicos and trade group leaders - didn't disappoint.

The only name that may have been more unpopular than Barack Obama at Wednesday's Rally for Economic Survival was Ken Salazar, the Obama official who initiated the deepwater drilling moratorium that promises economic havoc for Louisiana. When Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph mentioned meeting with the interior secretary, boos cascaded down from the thousands of Louisiana residents in the arena, interrupting Randolph's speech.

But the president was the persona non grata during the 90-minute event bookended by performances from country crooner and lieutenant governor candidate Sammy Kershaw. The clarion call from the stage was consistent and persistent: The federal moratorium will wreck the Bayou State's economy. And the president was invoked repeatedly in rhetorical flourishes that were runny, red meat for a conservative crowd stippled by tea party activists and "Drill, Baby, Drill" T-shirts.

"Tell Obama he don't have to come to Louisiana; he can stay in Washington," Lafayette resident Jim Crumling, a General Electric retiree who now has a Web development consulting business, said as the crowd filed out of the Cajundome following the rally.

Gov. Bobby Jindal was of course the ranking elected official to speak. He was greeted warmly by the partisan crowd, and he returned the favor with pithy bromides: "Let our people work; that is what we're telling Washington, D.C.," he said to a round of applause. "We're in a war to defend our way of life. We will win this war," he added later to a more vigorous ovation.

But it was Angelle who stole the show. Serving as master of ceremonies, the former St. Martin Parish president, who will return to his role as secretary of natural resources after a new lieutenant governor is elected this fall, repeatedly whipped the crowd into a froth as he took the podium between speakers.

"Mr. President, Mr. President," he intoned in sing-song oratory style that recalled both populist Louisiana politicians of yore and black preachers of today, "I'll forget the fact that you don't like oil and gas companies. But this moratorium is not hurting the stockholders of BP or Exxon or Chevron. This moratorium is hurting the Cheramies and Callaises and the Dupuises and the Robins and the Boudreauxs and the Thibodeauxs!"

Outside in the swelter and exhaust near the corner of Cajundome Boulevard and Congress Street, a small gaggle of about 20 protesters gathered with signs that read "Moratorium Today Means Safe Jobs Tomorrow" and "We Support Environmental Safety," among others.

"We're standing up to these big oil interests that are killing our world and killing us," said Nell, a Lafayette woman who declined to give her last name. "It's important for people to know that you can stand up and say it's not acceptable. These people are putting profit before our life."

But inside the Cajundome it was all kumbaya for oil.

"We come here clearly to send a message, not only from the ball field to the cane field, but from Abbeville to Capitol Hill, and from the banks of the historic Vermilion River to the powerful banks of the Potomac River," Angelle said in a gathering intensity, the crowd rising to its feet in a spasm of applause.

As Crumling and the other attendees exited into a hot Louisiana summer from the air conditioned dome, members of the Southwest Louisiana Tea Party from Lake Charles passed out tan business cards that payed homage to an Old West icon: "Wanted for Apathy: American Citizens."

"I'm worried about everything that's going on in this country," said Richard Mouton of Lafayette, owner of RPM Automotive, as he queued up for a shuttle bus. "I never thought I'd see this day."

Mouton, like Crumling, said the general downturn in the economy has affected his business, a car repair shop, and that he worries that the moratorium will make a bad situation worse. "People are holding onto their money," he said.

Crumler echoed Mouton's lament: "People are looking at this moratorium, and they're scared and they don't want to spend money."