Shocker! Mary Hates Vitter
We should have seen this one coming. The D.C. newspaper Roll Call reports that U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu didn't want to catch cooties from her junior colleague, Sen. David Vitter, during last week's swearing-in ceremony. "If the first day of a Congressional session really is like the first day of high school," writes Emily Heil and Elizabeth Brotherton, "Sen. David Vitter was totally exiled to the cafeteria losers' table." Instead of standing by her fellow delegation member, Landrieu was escorted by U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, and Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, who is retiring. On the surface, it might seem that Landrieu is avoiding any lingering stench from Vitter's widely publicized connection to the D.C. Madam scandal, but last week's snub probably has more to do with Vitter helping recruit GOP state Treasurer John Kennedy to run against Landrieu last year. Plus, these two senators have rarely played nice together. — Jeremy Alford
Lakeview War Canceled
The political equivalent of a civil war in Lakeview apparently will not happen this year after all. Assistant City Attorney Joe Landry has decided not to run for judge of Traffic Court in the April 4 election, opting instead to run for judge of Municipal Court. That clears the way for fellow Lakeview resident Mark Shea to run as the only "Lakeview candidate" in the Traffic Court race. The irony of this development is that Landry now will run for the judgeship being vacated by Shea's father, Judge John A. Shea, who recently announced he will retire upon reaching the age of 75 on May 9. John Shea has served as Municipal Court judge for 30 years. Landry supporters hope Gov. Bobby Jindal will call the election to fill Judge Shea's unexpired term on April 4, the same date as the Traffic Court primary, with a runoff (if needed) on May 2. The judge gave official notice of his retirement to the secretary of state's office last week, which gives Jindal time to call the election in April if he so chooses. The governor has until Jan. 16 to decide. Calling the Municipal Court election in April will spare the city of New Orleans the cost of a separate special election, which would run several hundred thousand dollars. April 4 is already a state-sponsored special election date. — Clancy DuBos
Tax Changes Kick In, Sorta
Another new year has begun and, as usual, the taxman cometh. A new set of laws will affect practically every category of taxpayer. The most widespread effect will be from last year's repeal of the so-called Stelly Plan, which swapped higher income tax brackets for lower sales taxes on groceries and utilities. But there's a catch: Revised withholding schedules won't be available until mid-year, so individual paychecks won't reflect the lower tax brackets until July. Taxpayers can calculate their new state income taxes online at http://www.revenue.louisiana.gov/sections/eservices/withest2009.aspx, and they can request immediate adjustments to their pay stubs by filing a "Temporary L-4" form, which you can download from http://revenue.louisiana.gov/forms/taxforms/1300T(10_08)f.pdf. On other fronts, state income tax payers previously were granted an automatic state extension if the federal government had already extended filing deadlines — as long as a copy of the federal extension request was attached to the state return. Beginning this year, for 2008 income tax returns, taxpayers must specifically request state filing extensions no later than May 15, which is the due date for individual income tax filings. Legislators passed a bill last year cutting unemployment insurance taxes by 10 percent, effective immediately. The new law also increases the maximum weekly benefit from $258 to $284. — Alford
Thoroughbred racetracks in neighboring states are reacting to the state's decision to help the New Orleans Fair Grounds implement "stringent biosecurity protocols" to help reduce exposure to the non-neuropathogenic strain of equine herpes virus, EHV-1. Two of the Fair Grounds' barns were quarantined last month after five of the 72 horses residing there tested positive for EHV-1. Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain says the procedures used in New Orleans are similar to those used by the Kentucky equine industry when it was forced to control its own EHV-1 outbreak recently. Strain adds that the protocols were designed to have minimal impact on the Fair Grounds' racing schedule. However, an economic impact has already been felt. According to CBS Sports, the Texas Racing Commission last week directed all of its racetracks and licensed training facilities to prohibit ship-ins from the Fair Grounds. Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., has taken similar action, lumping in Delta Downs and Evangeline Downs as well. Both policies will be revisited when a new round of EHV-1 test results are released by the state later this month. — Alford
One of the cofounders of Common Ground Relief, the grassroots assistance, medical and rebuilding program founded in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, revealed himself last week to be an FBI informant. Brandon Darby — who cofounded Common Ground with Sharon Johnson, Scott Crow, and Malik Rahim — wrote in an open letter to the group's members, "There are currently allegations in the media that I have worked undercover for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This allegation no doubt confuses many activists who know me ... The simple truth is that I have chosen to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
According to Texas Observer magazine, Darby provided information to the FBI in its felony case against David Guy McKay and Bradley Neal Crowder, Austin-based activists who were charged with possession of unregistered firearms following an FBI investigation of planned protests at last summer's Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn. McKay and Crowder go on trial in Minnesota at the end of the month. Both men face possible sentences of 30 years in prison.
An FBI affidavit submitted with the case said that Darby had been cooperating with federal investigators since 2007, well before the RNC meeting, and had worn a wire for many of his meetings with protestors and organizers. Reaction at indymedia.org, the Web site where Darby posted his missive, was predictably outraged, and Crow told The New York Times, "Brandon Darby is somebody I had entrusted with my life in New Orleans, and now I feel endangered by him." — Kevin Allman