With crystal ball firmly in place, we review a few of the top political stories of the year and make our predictions on each. By Jeremy Alford Sharing Fair Share Not Easy Headline: After fighting for generations, Louisiana finally convinces Congress to up the state's share of offshore oil and gas royalties. The victory translates into $200 million over the next 10 years (with half of that sum being paid in the first two years), then the tally jumps to about $650 million annually in 2017. The state intends to use the money for coastal protection.
Prediction: The fighting isn't over. The name of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat, is on the act, but Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Metairie Republican, is taking credit as well for his House version -- a move the Louisiana Democratic Party is hitting him on. On the state level, Gov. Kathleen Blanco will get her staff to borrow against the money and restoration and levee projects will sprout up along the coast -- with her name on them -- in time for the fall elections. Treasurer John Kennedy, however, may soften the PR blow. He's already inserting himself heavily in the media on how the loan process should proceed.
The Brothers Kennedy
Headline: Treasurer John Kennedy dominates news cycles by slamming Blanco, a fellow Democrat, on everything from pork-barrel spending to hurricane recovery. Political consultant George Kennedy, his brother, creates the news cycles with his muddy campaign attacks, winning both the secretary of state and insurance commissioner races this year. Most recently, he foreshadowed the impact of term limits as he helped a virtual unknown unseat an incumbent legislator from Baton Rouge trying to switch chambers.
Prediction: John and George may be the most influential brother duo the state has seen since Huey and Earl Long, or at least Edwin and Marion Edwards. Brother John has never ruled out switching parties and he has close GOP allies in Jindal and U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Kenner. If Jindal topples Blanco in the governor's race next year, Kennedy could run for that congressional seat or against Landrieu in 2008 as a Republican. As for Brother George, watch consultants around the state copy his "anti-politician" message during the 2007 legislative races, when House and Senate members will be playing musical chairs. He'll also reportedly be running a few statewide races, including his brother's.
Blanco Battered and Bruised
Headlines: Where do we start? The governor saw a mass exodus of her staff. Criticism on her response to the hurricanes quieted down and was replaced loudly with complaints over her housing program. Her hand-selected leadership turned against her in the Legislature and the House GOP caucus all but shut down her pre-Christmas special session.
Prediction: The Queen Bee has lost her sting. There was little or no retaliation when Senate President Donald Hines, a Democrat from Bunkie, stood against her, and party diehards are beginning to look at other horses. The defeats are stacking up and each day makes it harder for Blanco to win re-election. There will be some serious soul-searching about not running again, and the behind-the-scenes struggles will be leaked.
Levees? What Levees?
Headline: The federal government doesn't exactly come through with Category 5 levees, but Louisiana voters do decide to consolidate levee districts in the southeastern part of the state where allegations of fraud and cronyism have plagued the system for decades.
Prediction: The additional offshore royalties from the feds should help the state fill in some of the gaps along Hurricane Alley, but coming up with a plan to spend the money will be somewhat problematic, as it usually is. As for the issue, it will continue to resonate with voters, but not statewide. Political careers have been launched from less, and a few will get a bit more ink on these shoulders -- namely state Sen. Walter Boasso, a Republican from Arabi who is heading up a recovery nonprofit, and New Orleans businessman John Georges, who personally appeared in television ads supporting the consolidated levee board initiative. Both men are eyeing the 2007 governor's race.
Trading Places in Congress
Headline: Republicans take over Congress.
Prediction: GOP Congressmen Jim McCrery of Shreveport and Richard Baker of Baton Rouge will continue to explore alternative options to their present situation. The party shift knocked them out of major leadership roles and the defeats have very little positive spin. The biggest winner is Rep. Charlie Melancon, a Democrat form Napoleonville, who could make some serious plays as a centrist lawmaker in a divided body. He's crawling his way up the leadership ladder and was recently appointed to the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. Of course, his name is being tossed around for governor should there be a Democratic opening.
Public Bribery Popular as Ever
Headline: Congressman William Jefferson, a New Orleans Democrat, wins re-election despite facing a federal corruption investigation that yielded $90,000 in cold cash found in the politician's home freezer. In related news, the Louisiana Supreme Court has reinstated bribery, money laundering and misappropriation charges against Agriculture Commissioner Bob Odom.
Predication: If convicted, Jefferson will continue to represent the Crescent City for several years from behind bars. As for Odom, he'll easily beat the charges and go on to become supreme ruler of the universe.
Jindal: In, Out or Who Cares?
Headline: Jindal announces he might run for governor.
Predication: The wunderkind lawmaker has been milking his entrance into the 2007 governor's race for years. But now that he's raising money more aggressively, Jindal's objectives are clear. Still, has he gained enough ground to scare off other Republicans? Of course not. Expect another big GOP name in the form of a spoiler candidate.