In politics and in life, it's not where you start but how and where you finish that matters. That bit of wisdom came to mind when I read last week's Times-Picayune story about state Sen. Julie Quinn advocating for rule changes in the state's $750 million home-elevation program after going on the payroll of the program's largest local contractor.
Quinn is near the end of her tenure as a Louisiana state senator. Throughout her political career, she touted her credentials as a reformer who railed against insider dealing. Now, as she prepares to leave the Senate, she apparently has concluded that it's OK to use her political stroke to promote the interests of her client-turned-employer — as long as it's also good for consumers.
Quinn told the T-P that her actions do not conflict with Louisiana's ethics laws. She says she fully disclosed her relationship with Orleans Shoring in the course of her dealings with high-ranking state officials who could affect rule changes benefiting Orleans Shoring — and consumers.
Here are the facts as set forth in David Hammer's T-P story:
Last April, while lawmakers were still in session, Quinn went to work for Orleans Shoring as an attorney making $150 an hour. She filed a disclosure form with the state Ethics Board stating that the scope of her representation included working "in connection with collecting on invoices owed to Orleans Shoring under the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program." Under the program, the state pays Orleans using federal funds, so Senator Quinn's job was to help Orleans Shoring collect from the state.
Almost immediately after being retained by Orleans, Quinn began lobbying the Jindal Administration for rule changes, starting at the top — with Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater. She says she disclosed her relationship with Orleans in her dealings with administration officials.
Quinn sent dozens of emails to administration officials seeking specific rule changes, particularly those relating to insurance and bonding requirements. Those requirements protect consumers when something goes wrong on the job.
In July, a month after her last legislative session — but with six months left in her term as a state senator — Quinn joined Orleans' parent company as its chief operating officer. That same month, she appeared before a committee of her legislative colleagues to challenge Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's conclusions about the reasonableness of costs that the state was allowing contractors like Orleans to charge the program.
In August, she asked the attorney for the agency that oversees the home elevation program to make specific rule changes. The attorney offered to "compare notes" with Quinn before agreed-upon changes became official.
Quinn followed up by asking for an alternative to one provision that would benefit Orleans specifically — essentially allowing her employer to remain self-insured.
So what are we to make of all this?
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Doing well is the result of doing good. That's what capitalism is all about." Then again, disgraced former Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard also went to work for one of Orleans' competitors.
Moreover, former Wildlife and Fisheries Commissioner Henry Mouton, who was hired by River Birch landfill as a "lobbyist" in 1996, pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges the same month that Quinn stepped up her email lobbying efforts on behalf of Orleans.
Quinn's statement that she complied with state ethics laws, which are riddled with loopholes, offers cold comfort. While disclosure is required when a potential conflict arises, it's best to avoid conflicts altogether. Just ask Mouton.
Quinn may be on her way out as a senator, but it's an open secret that she wants to be a judge. The Canons of Judicial Conduct require judges to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or conflicts of interest. If she runs for judge any time soon, it will be interesting to see how Jefferson voters react to Quinn's attempt to do well while doing good.