Congressman Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, spent a bit of campaign cash last month on electronic phone banking, known to political hipsters as robo-calls, in his campaign against U.S. Sen. David Vitter. If you haven't been called yet, the pitch comes from a man named "Pat," who says, "I'm calling to ask you an important question about Chinese drywall." People called are not allowed to ask Pat anything, because it's a pre-recorded message. "Pat" is Melancon's latest salvo against Vitter, whose fundraising and polling have consistently outpaced Melancon's. The Melancon campaign, though, is hoping the drywall issue sticks.
The call refers to a state law "authored by David Vitter [that] stops victims from reaching a full recovery" if their homes contain toxic Chinese drywall. Vitter passed the "tort reform" law in 1996 when he was a state representative. The bill was supported heavily by business and industry, which have worked hard to protect it ever since. It severely limits "products liability" lawsuits and, in the case of Chinese drywall, it's stopping homeowners from suing the parties that installed the drywall in their homes.
State Sen. Julie Quinn, R-Metairie, who has criticized Vitter's 1996 law and tried to change it last year, was referenced in the robo-call. Here are the last few sentences of the transcript: "This week, one Republican state senator even said Vitter's law threw Chinese drywall victims under the bus. When the Louisiana Legislature starts its session next week, they'll have a chance to fix Vitter's law and help victims. Call your state representative or state senator and tell them to please fix Vitter's law, so people in our area can finally rebuild."
Last year, after failing to carve out an exemption for affected homeowners in the tort reform law, Quinn told The Times-Picayune that homeowners basically were being forced to sue the manufacturers in China. Of Vitter's law, which was passed with the help of former Gov. Mike Foster, Quinn added, "We threw the consumer under the bus under the purview of 'Hey, this will attract business to Louisiana.' All we did was hurt the consumer."
Last week, Melancon's campaign issued a press release stating the congressman had recently met with state lawmakers to discuss "a legislative fix" to Vitter's law and its relation to Chinese drywall. "Pat," of robo-call fame, was not available for comment, but Melancon stated in his press release, "That's why I'm fighting to fix this bad law and to ensure that Chinese drywall makers are held accountable. I'll work with Republicans and Democrats to get the job done, because when it comes down to it, the toxic fumes from Chinese drywall didn't care what political party you belong to — and neither do I." — Jeremy Alford