News Briefs

Vitter in The Washington Post, The $12 million carrot and more


The last election held for the 3rd Congressional District back in 2004 was among the hottest in the state, complete with campaign attacks against family members and old arrest records being resurrected. Based on the jabs already being unleashed by the Louisiana Democratic Party, history could repeat itself this year.

Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon will once again face Republican state Sen. Craig Romero of New Iberia, and the state Democratic Party is coming out swinging. Within weeks of Romero's announcement, Louisiana Democrats issued a press release focusing on Romero's fundraising, criticizing him for meeting Vice President Dick Cheney in Alexandria rather than joining lawmakers on a bus tour of hurricane-impacted areas to open the ongoing special session. ' Jeremy Alford


On the heels of White House hurricane recovery coordinator Donald Powell's disappointing comments in a Feb. 2 op-ed in The Washington Post, Republican Sen. David Vitter fired back with his own op-ed in the Post on Feb. 12. Vitter, usually one of President Bush's biggest supporters, used some of his strongest language to date in criticizing the administration. "Like most in Louisiana, I've been very disappointed by the Bush administration's recent statements about our hurricane recovery," Vitter wrote. "National and Louisiana leaders seem to be talking past each other rather than finding and building on common ground."

"[The president] has to understand that this is not as simple as saying that you can't build in a flood plain (the White House is in a flood plain) or that you can't build below sea level (the country would have to sacrifice a vitally important energy hub and port system)," Vitter also wrote. "Most of all, he has to understand that the great majority of New Orleans' catastrophic flooding occurred because of breaches in levees that were not overtopped by water but that failed from below because of gross design mistakes made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

Vitter called for bold reforms in New Orleans public schools and the Charity hospital system, and urged state leaders and local leaders to make tough decisions on rebuilding and present a definitive recovery plan. "As difficult a path as this is, I truly believe the people will accept it ' in Louisiana and across the nation," Vitter wrote. "The real question is, will the Louisiana and national politicians?" ' Scott Jordan


As lawmakers continue to debate a single levee district for southeast Louisiana, there's a one-sentence mandate from the federal government hanging over their heads. Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal inserted the language into an appropriations bill, basically holding back $12 million from the state for hurricane protection research until a "single state or quasi-state entity" is created to oversee operations.

Terry Ryder, Gov. Kathleen Blanco's executive counsel, told lawmakers the levee consolidation should satisfy the federal mandate, but he was unable to totally discount another entity formed in November ' the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which is meant to serve as a hub for coastal restoration, hurricane protection and flood control. While the language is up for debate, Jindal's one-sentence mandate is the golden carrot being dangled over the heads of lawmakers this session. ' JA


State Rep. Carla Blanchard Dartez says she is "seriously exploring" the possibilities of becoming a candidate in the upcoming election for secretary of state. The post became open last year after longtime Secretary Fox McKeithen died over the summer due to complications from a fall. Since then, potential candidates have been lining up and Dartez, a Morgan City Democrat, is among them.

"I really know I can do a good job, and I know Fox would want me to be there," she says. Dartez also says two of McKeithen's "close friends in Tennessee" have volunteered to help her raise money, declining to elaborate further.

Other possible candidates for the job include state Sen. Jay Dardenne, a Baton Rouge Republican; former state GOP Chair Mike Francis, state Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, a Baton Rouge Democrate; and Public Service Commissioner Dale Sittig of Eunice. ' JA


Levee board members in Louisiana are generally recommended by lawmakers, appointed by the governor and ratified by the state Senate. But what it takes to actually get recommended in the first place varies, according to Rep. Danny Martiny, a Metairie Republican. "I've put up my share of people who put up [campaign] signs for me," he confessed during a committee meeting last week. After the laughter died down, Martiny admitted it probably wasn't a shining example of good government, but that's the way it went down. "I'm not saying I'm one of the good guys," he added. ' JA**