New DA's First Fundraiser
New Orleans' new District Attorney, Leon Cannizzaro, held his first post-election fundraiser last Wednesday (Dec. 10) and drew a crowd of more than 200 to Pat O'Brien's in the Jax Brewery. Cannizzaro handily defeated attorney Ralph Capitelli in the Nov. 4 runoff, but the bruising campaign left him with a debt of roughly $300,000. A spokesman for Cannizzaro says the $250-a-ticket event grossed nearly $75,000, which was not a bad result for what turned out to be, literally, a dark and stormy night in New Orleans (it snowed the next morning). Among those in attendance were some of Cannizzaro's staunchest supporters, including Clerk of Civil Court Dale Atkins, City Councilmembers Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Cynthia Willard-Lewis, Clerk of Criminal Court Arthur Morrell and new state Sen. J.P. Morrell. Also attending were some who did not support Cannizzaro in the recent election, but who, it seems, want to help him now. Others in attendance included U.S. Attorney Jim Letten and Plaquemines Parish Sheriff Jiff Hingle. — Clancy DuBos
While Congressional Republicans were slaughtered nationwide this year, losing a total of 20 seats, the GOP managed to pull out a few squeakers in Louisiana to buck the trend. Last weekend, two nonincumbent Republicans secured surprising victories in New Orleans and Shreveport. Anh "Joseph" Cao stunned the local and national political establishment by ousting nine-term incumbent Democrat Bill Jefferson, who has been sullied by federal corruption charges. In Shreveport's Fourth Congressional District, physician John Fleming bested his Democratic opponent, former DA Paul Carmouche, by roughly 350 votes. Aaron Baer, communications director for the Louisiana Republican Party, says part of the victory belongs to Gov. Bobby Jindal, who endorsed both of the GOP candidates. In the Shreveport race, Jindal's endorsement "competed with President-elect Barack Obama's support" for Carmouche, Baer says. The same face-off was seen in Baton Rouge's Sixth Congressional District last month, where Jindal endorsed the winner, state Sen. Bill Cassidy, and Obama backed the loser, incumbent Congressman Don Cazayoux. "The voters spoke and their resounding choice for reforming government, ending corruption and reining in spending — all championed in Gov. Jindal's own campaign — won," Baer says.
Scott Jordan, spokesman for the Louisiana Democratic Party, says the outcome of these races probably would have been different if they hadn't been postponed by Hurricane Gustav. "After Democrats' historic wins on Nov. 4, Republicans painted the remaining elections as a last chance to put a tourniquet on the bleeding," Jordan says. "Yet Paul Carmouche still almost captured a long-held Republican seat in the Fourth, and if Joseph Cao toes a hard-right conservative line in the Second District, he'll face a tough re-election battle in two years." — Jeremy Alford
Biometric Cards Redux
An Assumption Parish lawmaker plans to reintroduce legislation next year to require persons who are not U.S. citizens to obtain an electronically scanned biometric card to gain employment in Louisiana. State Rep. Joe Harrison, a Napoleonville Republican, filed a similar bill earlier this year but was unable to get it out of committee. In recent weeks, Harrison has been meeting with labor officials in Louisiana and Washington, D.C., in an effort to revamp the proposal. The bill lost traction this year amid concerns of escalating costs and constitutional conflicts, but Harrison says anticipated changes on the national level will bolster his argument for a statewide program. "I've been told that there will be a federal identification system online soon that we could tap into," Harrison says. "Also, it's going to be Web-based, rather than software-based, which is one of the reasons the costs went through the roof earlier this year."
The legislation would force illegal immigrants to undergo a screening process to acquire a biometric card to work. In theory, these electronically scanned cards would connect labor officials to a database that could reveal a variety of physical attributes and personal information, including health status, fingerprints, country of origin and more. Harrison says it's partly a health care issue. "We've already experienced a resurgence of tuberculosis from South America, and it has been a tremendous drain on our resources and medical community," he says. "This proposed system would do a screening for diseases." The House Labor Committee will hold a hearing sometime next year to discuss the findings of a related study, Harrison says. — Alford
Sex Offender Bill Moves Forward
A new law proposed by Gov. Bobby Jindal that would essentially extend the time of incarceration for violent sex offenders already seems likely to pass. The governor plans to ask lawmakers to require that violent sex offenders be confined to a treatment center after their incarceration ends. Offenders are only released from so-called civil commitment programs, which exist in at least 19 other states, when they are deemed safe to return to society. The concept has become popular among politicians nationwide, and states such as New York and Florida have used revamped prisons for medical treatment of offenders. While the constitutionality of civil commitment programs has been challenged repeatedly, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the various state laws because justices don't interpret the program as a second punishment, but rather a new treatment opportunity.
Rep. Damon Baldone, a Houma Democrat, says Louisiana already has some of the toughest sex offender laws in the country, but there's always room for improvement. Baldone is vice-chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, which will likely have first crack at Jindal's proposal. Baldone anticipates a warm welcome for the idea. "The issue of more treatment ... has added merit, especially since these crimes often have a psychological aspect," Baldone says. — Alford