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Practicing for Iowa?
Here's an interesting twist to Gov. Bobby Jindal's plans to jet up to the cornfields of Iowa this month to speak to the Family Policy Center, a conservative Christian group: Iowa's first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses fit Jindal's 2007 gubernatorial campaign strategy like a glove. Recall that Jindal eschewed debates as long as possible and focused instead on a media campaign and face-to-face gatherings — particularly folksy meetings in many of Louisiana's small, rural towns. That's exactly the kind of campaign that presidential hopefuls are required to wage to succeed in Iowa. Was Jindal honing his skills in 2007, or was that just a coincidence? BobbyWatch has officially begun. — Clancy DuBos



Parsing Obama on Drilling
In nine weeks, President George Bush must vacate the Oval Office to make room for President-elect Barack Obama, and those nine weeks promise to be loaded with one surprise after another. Already, Obama says he plans to make an immediate impact by nixing some of the executive orders issued by the GOP administration. He told reporters last week that he is reviewing the possibilities of lifting a ban on stem-cell research and closing the GuantÁnamo Bay Detention Center, where suspected and convicted terrorists are held. The president-elect, who didn't have the most pro-oil record going into the race for the White House, also may stop the Bureau of Land Management from opening some 360,000 acres to domestic drilling. Louisiana is an oil-and-gas state, and money generated from drilling helps pay for coastal restoration projects, road overhauls and other vital public needs.

Congressman Charlie Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat who endorsed Obama earlier this year, says not to worry — yet. For starters, the executive order Obama is reviewing involves environmentally sensitive areas of Utah and has nothing to do with Louisiana. Additionally, Melancon says, Obama could prove to be more moderate on drilling and exploration once he takes office. "You can always come up with some speculation, but my feeling is, my hope is, he won't move to curtail action in the Gulf of Mexico or the Outer Continental Shelf," Melancon says. "And this decision regarding Utah could be good for us because it'll put more demand on Louisiana to produce." — Jeremy Alford

Coastal Panel Will Get New Focus — Eventually
A group of lawmakers and experts that advises Gov. Bobby Jindal on coastal matters hasn't met since last year, and many members fear the panel has either lost its influence with the GOP administration or been stripped of its usefulness altogether. What's certain is that state officials are redesigning the scope of the advisory panel to fit Louisiana's ever-evolving coastal master plan. Jindal's top coastal aide is heading up the overhaul, and there is talk of an informational meeting of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation before year's end.

The commission was created in 2002 by former Gov. Mike Foster, another Republican and Jindal's first political mentor. Back then, land loss and erosion were not yet part of the nation's political vernacular, and state-level education was just beginning. Foster's successor, Democrat Kathleen Blanco, gave the advisory commission even more influence. Just two years ago, for example, its members played a lead role in the planned closure of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet.

Since Blanco's final year in office, however, the commission has lost steam. Only two meetings were held in 2007, and no meetings have been held in 2008. Jindal reappointed the commission's members in July of this year — six months after he took office. "Now, more than ever, I think the commission has a role to play," says Rep. Damon Baldone, a Houma Democrat who was first appointed to the commission by Foster. "We're supposed to be advising the governor, but that isn't happening any more."

The panel currently has 29 appointed members, including representatives from business, industry, academia, agriculture, commercial fishing and the conservation community. Several members are from the New Orleans region. Some nervous chatter about the commission's function has grown louder in recent weeks, but commission members interviewed for this story praised Garret Graves, Jindal's top coastal advisor, for keeping an open line even when the commission seemed to be shut down. "Everyone is confident that Graves has the situation under control. He's always just a phone call away," says Rep. Gordon Dove, the Republican chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and one of the newest members of the advisory commission. "We're still going to be able to have a lot of input."

Graves says the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), which meets monthly rather than a few times a year, has picked up the commission's slack. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced the state to reassess its coastal strategy, which is why CPRA was created three years ago during the Blanco Administration. A federal task force also regulates coastal projects alongside a new coastal financing corporation. "We don't want to have another advisory group meeting for the sake of meeting," Graves says. "We want to ensure that the commission is a productive use of everyone's time — that is what we're focusing on. We're taking the commission in a new direction."

Graves, who also serves as chairman of CPRA, says his marching orders come straight from Jindal, who is "done with the era of studies in coastal Louisiana." Despite efforts by lawmakers to abolish the advisory commission during this year's regular session, he says Jindal wants the group to remain a valuable tool for the state. "That will be represented in the revamped commission," Graves adds. As for when the commission's next meeting will be scheduled and new directives issued, Graves says those details are being hammered out. A redesign plan is also expected to start taking form before the end of the year. — Alford

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