Now that both of Louisiana's U.S. senators have signed "blue slips" backing the nomination of Kenneth Polite to be southeast Louisiana's next U.S. attorney, all that remains for him to be confirmed is the scheduling of hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee and a perfunctory vote by the full Senate. If only things were that simple.
Senate politics are more complicated than ever in Washington, D.C.'s highly partisan environment. Senators only recently settled (for now) a potential war over changing the rules that govern filibusters. That resolution cleared the way for confirmation of several of President Barack Obama's high-level nominees, including Gina McCarthy as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Polite is way down the political food chain compared to McCarthy and others whose confirmations hung in the balance of last week's compromise. But these days it doesn't take much to tank someone's career trajectory — no matter how deserving of the job or promotion that person may be — when senators dig in their heels on some larger but unrelated issue.
That's a shame, because the Eastern District of Louisiana needs a permanent replacement for former U.S. Attorney Jim Letten. Interim U.S. Attorney Dana Boente, who is on loan from the Eastern District of Virginia, has done a fine job of stabilizing the office and getting prosecutors (and the public) refocused on the job of putting crooks and drug dealers in jail — and not anonymously commenting online about ongoing cases or local scandals.
Meanwhile, special prosecutor John Horn, similarly on loan from the Northern District of Georgia, has yet to conclude (as far as the public can tell) his investigation into leaks and the online posting scandal that brought down Letten and his three top lieutenants.
In some cosmically karmic way, it may benefit Polite that his nomination hasn't been rushed through. Letten's sudden departure left a lot of housecleaning to be done; Boente and Horn are doing it. By wrapping up some potentially messy cases such as River Birch, Danziger, Nagin and others, Boente and Horn can clear the decks, so to speak, for Polite to come in and make a fresh start. That process may involve some additional resignations, depending on what Horn finds and reports.
Meanwhile, inside the Beltway, all eyes are on the Judiciary Committee. Polite has bipartisan support (including endorsements from GOP financier Boysie Bollinger and Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand). Vitter's signature on the blue slip for his fellow De La Salle alum clears the way for Polite's confirmation, providing larger Senate politics don't get in the way.
A former prosecutor in the busy southern district of New York (a plum Justice Department assignment), Polite certainly has the chops for the job.
So Long, Hank — New Orleans lost one of its great political minds and personalities last week when former state Sen. Henry "Hank" Braden IV died of congestive heart failure. He was 68.
I knew Hank well and cherished him as a friend. Whether in the marbled halls of the state Capitol, a quiet wing of City Hall or at his favorite table at Ruth's Chris Steak House, he always added keen insights, great anecdotes and marvelous historical perspective to any political discussion.
Politics was Braden's passion. He brought his hallmark zeal as well as a razor-sharp wit to every political task. He could wax philosophic one minute and dissect a problem or a campaign with uncanny bluntness the next. He mentored countless aspiring politicians and advised as many more once in office, including former Mayor Sidney Barthelemy. Above all, Hank understood that the essence of politics is people, and the most important attribute a person can bring to the game is loyalty. He will be missed.