comment
Did Vitter Undercut Jindal?
More than one political observer has noted the curious timing of U.S. Sen. David Vitter's "news conference" last Monday (July 16) -- the exact moment that Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal was scheduled to formally announce his candidacy for governor in the state's largest media market, New Orleans. The effect of Vitter's timing was to completely overshadow Jindal's announcement. Was that a coincidence? Those who know Vitter suspect not. The senator is a virtual control freak when it comes to media spin and political strategy. So why would Vitter divert the state's media away from fellow Republican star Jindal at precisely the moment that Jindal had been anticipating for almost four years? Insiders say it relates to Vitter's attempt, during his week of silence after admitting that he used a call-girl service in Washington, to orchestrate what became his local GOP defense strategy. One source says Vitter emailed several prominent Republicans, including Jindal, suggesting specific language for them to use in their coordinated press statements in support of the scandalized senator. Several prominent Republicans issued strong statements supporting Vitter on July 12, but Jindal waited one day before releasing a brief, tepid statement offering prayers for the Vitter family -- and expressing disappointment in the senator's moral failings. Jindal's refusal to proclaim unfettered enthusiasm for Vitter allegedly infuriated the senator, who retaliated by stealing Jindal's thunder last Monday. Once again, Vitter appears to have earned the nickname his fellow legislators gave him when he was a state lawmaker: "Bitter Vitter." -- DuBos

 

Vitter 'Tags' Press
Only credentialed news media were allowed inside U.S. Sen. David Vitter's tightly controlled, no-answers press conference last week at the Sheraton Galleria hotel in Metairie. Any correspondents for Hustler did not announce themselves; the porn magazine forced Vitter to admit he paid for sex. Stone-faced women in conservative attire told reporters and photographers to sign in, then "tagged" media folks with pink-checkered wristbands. They were also advised that the beleaguered senator (accompanied by wife Wendy Vitter) would begin speaking at precisely 5:05 p.m. "Typical Vitter," a radio reporter chuckled, referring to the politician's attention to detail. After the "closed" news conference ended, three members of the University of New Orleans College Republicans called for their party stalwart to step down. "Mr. Vitter, if you are truly a man, if you truly want to help Louisiana, you will resign immediately," Ronald Krieger, president of the group, said in a statement. Tavish Misra, secretary, and David Huguenel, outreach director, joined Krieger in passing out news releases to departing reporters. -- Johnson

 

 

Irony Without End
Forget the chortling critics. U.S. Sen. David Vitter's Web site (www.vitter.senate.gov) contains remarks by the senator that are riddled with irony -- and a measure of hypocrisy -- after the Republican champion of family values and ethical government admitted to "sin" with prostitutes. A pink ribbon on his site advertises a special constituent service for female voters. "My Women's Leadership forum is designed to help me focus on the needs of women and families," Vitter wrote, obviously before admitting to renting "escorts" from the "D.C. Madam" on July 9. On June 20, Vitter told a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on post-Katrina crime in New Orleans that District Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr. and NOPD must shape up. "We must use our federal help to demand reforms at the local level. All these foundational problems existed pre-Katrina -- they were only exacerbated by it." Vitter's own illegal trysts allegedly date to at least 1999. On Jan. 12, Vitter celebrated passage of a measure he authored to increase fines for rule-breaking lobbyists. "We need to hold people accountable for their actions," said Vitter. "And increasing these fines will make those who abuse the rules truly feel the impact of their actions rather than simply receiving a slap on the wrist." On Jan. 10, after a debate fueled by the Abramoff bribery scandal, the Senate voted to table Vitter's proposal to restrict Indian tribal campaign contributions. "This is blatant hypocrisy -- even by Washington standards," Vitter said at the time. -- Johnson

 

 

Delegation Drain Redux
It wasn't that long ago that Louisiana's congressional delegation said goodbye to veterans such as John Breaux, J. Bennett Johnston, Bob Livingston and Billy Tauzin, and hello to worries over the obvious loss of seniority. Now, just a few years later, Louisiana voters have a case of dŽjˆ vu all over again. "It's hard not to look at it and be concerned about Louisiana's influence nationally," says Dr. Kirby Goidel of the Public Policy Research Lab at LSU. "Clearly, we have again been weakened." Consider the following: Louisiana's freshman Sen. David Vitter turned against his conservative, Republican ways by recently admitting affairs with a prostitute; Democratic Rep. William Jefferson faces federal corruption and racketeering charges after a high-profile raid revealed $90,000 in marked bills in his freezer; and Congressman Bobby Jindal seems more poised than anyone, based on polls, to leave the Hill and take on the governorship. "It looks like we're going to be seeing some new faces at some point," Goidel says. Vitter will likely ride out the controversy, Goidel adds, but he will have minimal impact in Washington. Meanwhile Jindal's possible exit from Congress may not be as noticeable because he is only in his second term and likely will miss some opportunities while running for governor -- a campaign that never really stopped after his 2003 loss to Kathleen Blanco. As for Jefferson, Goidel calls him the wild card, having recently been re-elected while still under the taint of an ongoing corruption investigation. -- Alford

 

 

'Good Moral Character'?
Beleaguered U.S. Sen. David Vitter said last week he looked forward to returning to work in Washington on a "good" immigration bill. Vitter last month led the Senate defeat of President George Bush's proposed "amnesty" bill for 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. However, Vitter may not find sanctuary from his admitted "sin" with prostitutes in the minutiae of federal immigration laws. The 1952 immigration law sets high standards of "good moral character" for immigrants that Vitter himself would have difficulty meeting -- if he were not already an American citizen. "If he tried to immigrate on the basis of employment, [the laws on] prostitution or commercialized sex would probably keep him out," said local immigration attorney Lawrence Fabacher. A criminal conviction on such charges would not be required to bar his entry into the U.S., Fabacher says. Federal law states that applicants seeking permission to work in the U.S. "shall be found to lack good moral character" if they have been involved in "prostitution or commercialized vice." Post-9/11, however, authorities focus on higher-priority cases such as suspected terrorists, Fabacher says. Meanwhile, Vitter's moralistic opposition to amnesty for undocumented workers has not wavered. "Amnesty sends the wrong message -- that of a reward -- to those who have been evading our laws." Vitter said on May 11. The senator has not been charged in the D.C. Madam case. -- Johnson

PAR's Pension Warning
The Public Affairs Research Council (PAR) warns that the state's pension system debt for government employees is $12 billion -- and growing. "Every benefit increase and pay raise granted serves to deepen the state's pension debt, also referred to as the unfunded accrued liability," PAR President Jim Brandt said after lawmakers passed a number of special retirement bills and pay hikes during the recent legislative session. Despite a record budget surplus, lawmakers took no extra steps to pay down the state's rising debt. State Treasurer John Kennedy recommended using up to $1 billion of the surplus for debt reduction. That idea crashed once the feds demanded that Louisiana ante up that much for its financially strapped Road Home program. PAR is planning to update its pre-Katrina study of state public retirement systems, Brandt says. -- Johnson

City Pension Fund Grows
Still reeling from bad investment decisions and the post-9/11 stock market declines, public pension funds are struggling to give retired government workers an annual Cost of Living Adjustment. COLAs and red ink are not a problem for the 5,000 members of the city of New Orleans Employee System, which boasts assets of $425 million. "We had a good week last week," Jerry Davis, chair of the pension board, chuckled. He was half-kidding. The fund, which does not cover police and firefighters, recently saw its assets grow by $5 million in one month. As a result, the city's contribution to the employees' retirement will drop from 8 percent to 7 percent next year; employees pay 4 percent, Davis says. Asked what advice he could give managers of other public pension systems, he said, "As a board, we pay attention to the financial markets and to what our investment fund managers are doing. And we make the difficult decisions that ensure we will continue to earn money." -- Johnson

Marina Project Washed Up
After years of planning and negotiations, there still is no Bucktown Marina. Instead, Jefferson Parish has lost $2.6 million in federal grants for the shelved project and stands to lose even more if a court rules in favor of Sonny Eirith, the contractor hired by Jefferson Parish in 2000 to develop a marina. It was in the 1970s that the parish first received state and federal approval to build a recreational public marina in Bucktown. The marina was to include public wet slips that would finance maintenance and a public park. When Eirith submitted his proposal in 2001, it included retail space, office buildings and dry dock storage because consultants had determined the slips wouldn't generate enough funds. As part of that plan, Eirith, who developed and operates a marina in Venice, La., secured numerous federal grants. The state, which owns the lake's water bottoms, rejected Eirith's proposal, saying it was overly commercial. Any hopes to resurrect it were dashed when a Jefferson Parish Council-approved committee determined that a smaller project with few commercial aspects would better serve the area. Eirith filed suit against the parish in 2004 for breach of contract and other claims after the parish sent him a letter terminating their agreement. Peter Butler, an attorney representing the parish, agrees that Eirith did consulting work, but he says the agreement stipulated that Eirith would only be reimbursed up to $150,000. Meanwhile, the last of the federal grants that were to be used to finance the project expired on June 30. -- Winkler-Schmit

Spreading the Blame
District Attorney Eddie Jordan Jr. has drawn the lion's share of criticism for the city's failing criminal justice system, but Rafael Goyeneche, president of the private Metropolitan Crime Commission, says there is plenty of blame to go around. "The number one reason for the explosion in crime is the lack of a crime lab -- that's not the DA's fault," Goyeneche says. Construction on the new facility on the UNO Lakefront campus has stalled because contractors want to be paid quarterly, and the process is bottled up at City Hall, he says. "If public safety is the number one issue, the mayor needs to kick up." Meanwhile, Jordan supporters note that a police captain who headed NOPD's homicide division for a year after Hurricane Katrina was reassigned after an internal affairs investigation. They add that murder investigations have begun to speed up recently with the help of FBI experts. -- Johnson

Dare We Say It? BOOM!
For those still reeling or moaning from the loss of Louisiana's fabled oil boom in the 1970s and early 1980s, there's great news in the state's latest annual oil and gas revenue report. During the 2006-2007 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the state received a record $522.5 million in income from oil and gas royalties. That's enough to make state officials giddy, as oil money not only supports the general operations of the state but also spills over into special funds for education, roads, coastal restoration and other services. "These figures, coupled with severance tax income (which is not yet compiled for the last fiscal year), and increases in drilling activity, all suggest that times of growth and prosperity are upon us," says Scott Angelle, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. "While Louisiana has an increasingly diversified economy, the energy industry remains a vital part of this state's economy." According to Louisiana Mineral Board Secretary Marjorie McKeithen, the state earned another $600 million from bonus, leaseholder and interest payments -- the highest tally for such payments since 1983. From the side of industry and academia, credit is given to the administration of Gov. Kathleen Blanco for proactive resource policies, such as streamlined permitting, eliminating bureaucratic hoops and reducing regulatory uncertainty. "The Blanco administration had its antenna up early on and responded to some of our concerns," says Louisiana Oil and Gas Association President Don Briggs. "With effective change, there certainly is indication in these numbers that business is on an upward spiral in this state." Of course, the state's newfound wealth also could be chalked up to high oil and gas prices, but David Dismukes, associate professor and associate director of the Center for Energy Studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, says the increased production "indicates that the industry views Louisiana in a more attractive light for future energy investments." -- Alford

Add a comment