Police Monitor Redux?
In a unanimous 7-0 vote, the New Orleans City Council resurrected a proposal to create an independent monitor of the New Orleans Police Department. The measure, endorsed by Police Chief Warren Riley, has long been ignored by Mayor Ray Nagin. "[C]ertain recent incidents have made manifest the importance of improving relations between the New Orleans Police Department and the community," according to the resolution co-authored by outgoing Council at-large member Eddie Sapir and District B Councilmember Renee Gill-Pratt. While the resolution does not identify any particular "incidents," NOPD has been hit with a slew of high-profile misconduct allegations since Katrina. The Sapir-Pratt resolution estimates the monitor's office would cost $250,000 -- including staff, equipment and related expenses. The resolution also calls for "well-publicized" hearings on the monitor proposal within 60 days. Last week, civil rights attorney Mary E. Howell said the council should spend $15,000 to hire a professional consulting group, the Police Assessment Research Center, to recommend how the monitor's office would function. -- Johnson
If you don't like the way the political game works, change the rules. That seems to be the attitude of some House members who have filed more than a dozen bills that seek to change some of the rules governing legislative goings-on. One attempt at reform involves conference committees, where bills go after the House and Senate fail to pass identical versions of the legislation. In conference, a committee of six legislators -- three from each chamber -- can completely rewrite a bill or just work out a few kinks in an attempt at compromise. Once a bill emerges from conference, each house must vote it up or down as is, without amendments. If both houses approve, the bill becomes law. Otherwise, it fails for the session. Lawmakers over the years have described conference committees as capable of making water flow uphill or a rooster walk backwards. Rep. Jim Tucker, a Terrytown Republican, has filed a resolution that would force bills coming out of conference to lie over for one day. Last year, a bill to create an alcohol-abuse hotline was released from conference on the last day of the session, and it contained language allowing convenience stores to sell daiquiris. The move was caught and rejected -- barely. The extra day, in theory, would give lawmakers more time to review conference committee changes to legislation. -- Alford
Gov. Kathleen Blanco came on strong in her session-opening speech, cracking jokes and drawing a line in the political sand with regard to certain topics. But her initial bravado seems to have had little lasting impact as more and more lawmakers practice the art of antagonizing the Queen Bee. Most recently, Republicans blasted a portion of her "Road Home" housing program for evacuees that was going to be based partly on income levels -- and forced her to remove the income-based restrictions. "Regardless of your income, regardless of your (insurance) rates, this catastrophe hit everybody the same," Rep. Jim Tucker of Terrytown, chair of the GOP House Caucus, told the Associated Press. Last month, Rep. Warren Triche, a Chackbay Democrat, pushed a poker bill onto the House floor against the governor's wishes. Blanco even sent her chief lawyer, Terry Ryder, to a committee meeting to speak against the measure and to ask Triche to pull it. Triche only laughed and criticized "her carcass" -- i.e., Ryder -- for butting in. -- Alford
A Small Club
On the night of the April 22 primary election, only one other man in the Versailles Ballroom of the Hilton Riverside hotel could tell Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu what it is like to make the runoff against an incumbent mayor of New Orleans. Ron Faucheux, who as a Louisiana state legislator lost a tough campaign trying to unseat incumbent Mayor Dutch Morial in 1982, was spotted in the ballroom that the Landrieu campaign rented in anticipation of a primary-election victory. After the 1982 election, Faucheux became Louisiana Secretary of Commerce, then later went to Washington, D.C. He became a successful political campaign consultant (116 campaigns in 11 states) and publisher of Campaigns & Elections magazine, (1993- 2003). After a stint as a lobbyist, he recently was named chief of staff for Landrieu's sister, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu. Asked why anyone would want to be mayor of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Faucheux, a Republican, said, "If you're in politics just for ego, it's a terrible time to be mayor." He added later, "A good mayor in many ways can have more impact on his or her jurisdiction than almost any other elected official, short of the president of the United States." -- Johnson
We're Like, So Taxing
According to a report by the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit policy research group, Louisiana ranks among the top 10 states for its burden on personal income. The description represents what local and state governments collect in taxes from people as a percentage of their per capita income. Taxes, of course, include income, sales, property and other levies. In Maine, 13.4 percent of residents' income is collected through local and state taxes. In New York, it's 12.9 percent. In Louisiana, where two devastating hurricanes sent residents into the streets and left companies without a market, the amount of personal income gobbled up by state and local government weighs in around 11 percent, making us tied with Vermont on the Tax Foundation list. -- Alford
What a Gas!
This column reported in March that, despite months of work, state Attorney General Charles Foti's investigation into gasoline price gouging after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had yielded nothing. Months earlier, Foti told reporters his office was being deluged with gouging complaints and that he would personally hunt down offenders. Even more surprising than the lack of results was the fact that states such as Georgia and New York were chalking up price-gouging prosecutions during the same period -- even though they were nowhere near the Gulf storms. In the wake of recent price spikes at the pump, Foti is once again promising to bring down gasoline profiteers. His office issued a press release last week stating he would be "expanding" his post-storm investigation and "sending letters of inquiry to all major oil companies, distributors and retailers asking for information that may explain why there have been large spikes in gas prices recently as well as in the weeks and months after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita." -- Alford
LIFE is Still Alive
Mayor Ray Nagin's election in 2002 served as a warning that local political organizations had perhaps seen their best days. But at least one group -- LIFE -- is still alive and well. The organization chaired by Jacques Morial, brother of former Mayor Marc Morial, contributed a total of $24,000 to 16 candidates in the April 22 primary, campaign finance records show. Of those 16, five won in the primary, three were defeated and eight face runoff opponents. The five primary winners -- all incumbents -- received $1,000 each from LIFE: Civil Court Clerk Dale Atkins, Councilman at-Large Oliver Thomas, District D Councilmember Cynthia Hedge-Morrell, District 2 Assessor Claude Mauberret and District 5 Assessor Tom Arnold. Three LIFE-backed candidates, all political newcomers, failed in the primary despite LIFE's $1,000 contribution to each of their campaigns: Jane Ettinger Booth, who ran third in the race for the District C council seat; Rev. Tom Watson, who finished sixth of 22 in the race for mayor; and Al Coman, who placed second to Nancy "IQ" Marshall, winner of the District 6 assessor's race. The eight LIFE-backed candidates who are in the May 20 runoff include Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, running for mayor, who received $5,000; Jackie Clarkson and Arnie Fielkow, both running for council at-large, $3,000 each; District A Councilman Jay Batt, District B Councilwoman Renee Gill Pratt, and District C candidate James Carter, $1,000 each; Fourth District Assessor Betty Jefferson, $1,000; and incumbent First District Assessor Darren Mire, $1,000. -- Johnson