News Briefs

Brown pelicans flying the coop, offshore royalties and more


Which potential future candidate for governor will get to take credit for upping Louisiana's share of offshore royalties? Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco is threatening to oppose an Aug. 16 federal royalty sale out of protest, which isn't exactly breaking news, but she recently brought on board a lawyer with expertise in the area and is circling the wagons for a possible legal challenge.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal convinced the House Resources Committee to pass his bill last week to increase Louisiana's share of energy royalties produced offshore up to 75 percent. It's estimated that the state loses 24 square miles of coastal land annually from the encroaching Gulf of Mexico, and the price tag exceeds $14 billion for a 30-year fix. One solution is getting more offshore royalty money from the feds ' no easy undertaking.

States such as New Mexico receive upwards to 50 percent of the oil and gas revenues they send to the federal government. But Louisiana continues to lose out on millions due to its three-mile offshore boundary. Although the state contributes more than $5 billion to the federal treasury each year from offshore drilling, it only gets back about $39 million a year. ' Jeremy Alford


Speaking of the upcoming governor's race, Blanco just received her most recent poll numbers from SurveyUSA, which is funded by a consortium of media organizations. She didn't get a noticeable boost from the regular session. Based on 600 interviews taken June 15, the governor earned a 39 percent approval rating, which is up from the 34 percent rating she received in a similar poll back in November. Still, the numbers are a far cry from the lofty 55 percent mandate she was booking in May of last year. ' JA


Dr. Pearson Cross, an assistant professor of political science at UL Lafayette, has an interesting take on the ongoing bribery investigation of Rep. William Jefferson. Even though New Orleans Democrat Jefferson was ousted from his seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee and is under fire from the feds, Cross told the Cybercast News Service that the longtime Louisiana politician's reputation might not be totally destroyed.

"Oftentimes, being an embattled Louisiana politician can actually be a benefit," Cross says. "If anything, I think voters in the state's 2nd District are going to see him as put upon, that he was unfairly stripped, and I'm certain he's going to spin it that way." Cross continues, "Getting accused of corruption or bribery or incompetence or just about anything else in Louisiana has never been a bar to holding office ' or returning to officeâ?¦ We've had lots of incidents where people have been convicted, and if they're not forced to leave office by the nature of their crime, then they're just re-elected." ' JA


The federal public defender system certainly has its troubles ' mainly related to funding ' but it's hard to imagine any semblance of justice without the dedication and passion of its attorneys. Rebecca L. Hudsmith, a public defender in the Middle and Western districts of the state, has devoted her career to representing indigent clients and was recently honored for her dedication and legal acumen with the 2005 Benjamin E. Smith Award from the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Louisiana. "Rebecca has been in the trenches all of her legal career, fighting to make the justice system fair to the disadvantaged and dispossessed," says former Angola State Penitentiary death row inmate Wilbert Rideau, a journalist who earned his freedom in 2005 after more than four decades years behind bars. "I knew Benjamin Smith, having met him over 40 years ago, and I'm sure he'd be proud of her work and the good she's done." ' Leslie Turk


Louisiana's state bird is leaving the state in increasing numbers over the last two years, according to surveys conducted by Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' biologists. "Environmental effects caused by an oil spill, hurricane activity and high tides associated with tropical storm activity are taking their toll on brown pelican populations," says biologist Tom Hess, who has overseen two brown pelican nesting surveys this year. Compared to similar studies in 2005, there has been a decline of nearly 10,000 nests. ' JA


Mark Davis, executive director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, is stepping down from the high-profile gig after more than 15 years at the helm. The CRCL has played a pivotal role in crafting state policy over the past decade, with Davis as its front man. He helped bring former Gov. Mike Foster into the fold and offered oversight during the formation of the America's Wetland campaign. Most recently, he was instrumental in hammering out differences to help form the state's first coastal land trust. Mark Ford, CRCL's deputy director, couldn't comment on Davis' future plans. "He just felt like he was ready for a change," Ford says. The nationwide job hunt has been under way for three weeks now, and candidates from several different states are vying for the post. ' JA