The governor's race saw two major developments last week. Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick announced he will not run, and the Legislative Auditor's office released a scathing report on the Public Service Commission that could sink the nascent candidacy of PSC member Jay Blossman, a Republican from Slidell.
Connick spent several months weighing his chances. Had he decided to run, he would have been the only major Democrat from the New Orleans area, which is where a huge chunk of the state's most loyal Democrats reside. Many thought he would have had an excellent chance of picking up Mayor Ray Nagin's endorsement, and he likely would have cut deeply into the GOP's Jefferson stronghold because of his reform and anti-crime credentials. His decision not to run thus gives candidates in both parties a break.
Meanwhile, Blossman will have to work overtime to keep his campaign on track after the Legislative Fiscal Office released a report last Friday that blasts the PSC for, among other things, being too cozy with the utilities that it regulates.
Blossman is not named in the report, but records from CLECO, a utility that the PSC regulates, show that the company paid $564 for Blossman's visit to a posh New Mexico spa during a conference last year. Blossman admits he went to the Ten Thousand Waves resort and spa -- which features massages and various other high-end spa treatments -- during a conference sponsored by the Center for Public Utilities. However, he disputes the amount that CLECO says it paid for his visit, which the audit identifies as a "gift." He says two CLECO representatives also visited the spa and attributes most of the charges to them. He says he will reimburse what he thinks he owes for his spa treatment.
It will be interesting to see Blossman's evaluation of his spa visit. Suffice it to say it will cost him more in votes than in greenbacks. Moreover, if Blossman's best response is that he wasn't the only one in the hot tub, he might as well start saving the much larger denominations that he's been pouring into his campaign.
Blossman says he only spent an hour or so in the spa's hot tub and steam room. He also told The Times-Picayune that he did not know until a few weeks ago that CLECO, which provides electricity to his Northshore district, paid for the spa visit.
So, which is worse, not knowing that the two utility moguls you're yucking it up with in the hot tub paid for it all or expecting voters to believe such a story?
Believe this: if Blossman starts to show any momentum in the race, his opponents -- particularly his GOP rivals -- will have a hoot making commercials and fliers depicting Blossman, whose ads paint him as a tough reformer and staunch fiscal conservative, in a hot tub at a toney spa outside Santa Fe as the guest of folks he's supposed to regulate.
Blossman says the report is politically motivated by former Legislative Auditor Dan Kyle, who is now a Republican candidate for governor. That may be so, but Blossman will likely find himself in more hot water as the campaign picks up steam.
In last week's column, I took six senators and six representatives to task for casting secret ballots during the selection process of the new legislative auditor. I identified them as the members of the Legislative Audit Advisory Council. I have no regrets about the criticism I levied regarding secret ballots by a public body. However, the vote was taken by a group known as the Special Recommendation Commission, not by the Audit Advisory Council.
I apologize to those whose names appeared erroneously. Here is the correct list of offending lawmakers, who voted in secret for a position that fulfills one of the most important public functions in state government:
Senate President John Hainkel of New Orleans and Sens. Tom Schedler of Slidell, Chris Ullo of Marrero, Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge, Louis Lambert of Gonzales, and Robert Barham of Rayville.
House Speaker Charles DeWitt of Lecompte and Reps. Ed Murray and Peppi Bruneau of New Orleans, Charles Lancaster of Metairie, Jerry LeBlanc of Lafayette, and Bryant Hammett of Ferriday.
Shame on them all.
- Public Service Commissioner Jay Blossman will have to work overtime to keep his campaign on track after a recent Legislative Fiscal Office report.