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The Common Denominator

All of the hottest policy issues debated since last hurricane season have had one thing in common: Scott Angelle.

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Scott Angelle points hard and fast to Caddo Parish, and then breathlessly offers an overview of the state's dry-hole tax credit. Next he jabs Cameron Parish and releases a spitfire evaluation of coastal land loss. He takes no pause, doesn't miss a beat, sticks to policy and is extremely animated in all he does.

As a large Louisiana map frames his performance, Angelle, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, casually inserts he is somewhat of a workaholic.

Since Hurricane Katrina made landfall late last August, he has played a major behind-the-scenes role in the debate over levee board consolidation and legacy sites, as well as in the governor's battles to increase the state's share of offshore royalties.

"I've always felt that if my plate gets too full, I'll just get another plate," says Angelle.

Before being appointed two years ago by Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Angelle served as president of St. Martin Parish. The two are perceived as chummy, and rumors ran rampant during the recent legislative session that Angelle was on Blanco's short-list for lieutenant governor -- had Mitch Landrieu won the New Orleans mayor's race.

He swatted down that rumor -- not too vigorously, though -- and contends he pays little attention to rumblings about him running for statewide office one day.

It is indeed a long way to go for a man who was once criticized by sectors of the oil and gas industry for not having enough experience and insight for the post.

"They didn't want me in this job," Angelle says.

That stigma didn't linger, says Wilfred Pierre, a Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. Angelle revealed himself quickly as a hands-on bureaucrat and energetic spokesman, and he showed an innate ability to unite feuding parties.

"He has the personal demeanor and capability to handle major issues," Pierre says. "He can be forceful and jovial and whatever it takes."

Angelle adds he is proactive to a fault sometimes and grows restless with things like studies, which are a necessary evil for coastal resources and big oil matters.

"I don't like being on the defensive," he says. "I'm an offensive player."

In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Angelle was instrumental in forming the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), which brought hurricane protection, coastal restoration and flood control under one official umbrella. CPRA also gave foundation to the efforts to consolidate levee boards in south Louisiana.

The merging of levee districts became a war cry in the months following the 2005 hurricane season. It was an emotional battle from both sides of the fence, and lawmakers disagreed openly about their regions being included in the plan.

It was considered a top public policy issue by polls and editorial writers, but not all lawmakers saw it that way. "Some days left you just standing there scratching your head," Angelle says. "But I never thought the legislation was doomed. ... I just think there were people out there who were resistant to change."

After a short recess over Mardi Gras, Angelle went back on the offensive. He spent the spring urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would force the clean-up of huge fields polluted by oil companies.

It was a multi-layered issue that monopolized his time. Landowners wanted to get paid for the mess, trial attorneys wanted to make sure people could still sue, environmentalists wanted a stricter law and oil interests didn't want to get taken advantage of.

Angelle operated a policy war room, leaving the arm-twisting to the Governor's Office while his team hammered out the legislation, which changed several times during the recent session.

Although Angelle is no rookie, the so-called legacy debate served as a refresher course on what it is like to work with the Legislature. "If you're not sure about how something is going to be received by the Legislature, you will definitely find out during the process," he says.

Angelle also has gotten involved with the governor's battle to increase its share of federal offshore mineral royalties. Although the state contributes more than $5 billion to the federal treasury each year from offshore drilling, it only gets back about $39 million.

To boost the state's take, Blanco has threatened to refuse to sign off on leases scheduled for August. She calls it a "hardball" tactic that could force the matter into court. Angelle's office issues the "consistency agreements" that Blanco has been threatening to withhold, and he supports her move.

"He has been the common denominator on all of these issues," says Reggie Dupre, a Democrat on the Senate Natural Resources Committee. "You can expect to see a lot of him."

Dupre, Pierre and others believe Angelle is the most high-profile secretary in the department's history. Angelle recognizes this distinction as well, but refuses to discuss whether he wants to capitalize on his notoriety. He answers political queries vaguely, with a coy smile.

"Let's just say I have chosen to dedicate my life to public service," he says.

Talk like that will definitely make him someone to watch.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at jeremy@jeremyalford.com.

Secretary Scott Angelle is considered to be an energetic - spokesman who has a an innate ability to unite feuding - parties.
  • Secretary Scott Angelle is considered to be an energetic spokesman who has a an innate ability to unite feuding parties.

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