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April 4 Ballot Preview

  The April 4 special elections likely will produce the only real campaign action of the year in Orleans and Jefferson parishes. New Orleans will see three races for judge and one for a legislative seat. The ballot will be longer in much of Jefferson, where Gretna and Westwego are having regular municipal elections and other parts of the parish will elect a parish councilmember, an appellate judge and a school board member. A quarter-penny sales tax proposition also will be on the ballot across Jefferson. The sales tax push comes not from public officials but the private sector (a core of business leaders and former parish President Tim Coulon). If voters approve the proposition, the sales tax in Jefferson would rise from 8.75 percent to 9 percent — the same as in New Orleans.

  The Orleans legislative race is for the old House seat of state Sen. J.P. Morrell, who formerly represented House District 97. Other races in the city include a contest for Traffic Court to replace Judge Paul Bonin, who was elected to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal; a race at Municipal Court to replace retiring Judge John Shea, who officially steps down May 9; and an election for judge of Juvenile Court to replace retired Judge C. Hearn Taylor. At least one candidate has announced for each of those positions. Qualifying is set for Feb. 11-13 in all contested elections in both Orleans and Jefferson parishes. — Clancy DuBos

Where Ya From, Mudbug?

  Many people are quick to reject labels, but not Louisiana crawfish farmers. For more than a generation, they and mudbug processors have prodded the federal government to implement a country-of-origin labeling system. The industry is boiling over foreign competitors labeling their bags with Cajun misnomers, implying imported crawfish are domestic. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is enforcing a rule requiring such labeling at the retail level. David Savoy, president of the Crawfish Farmers Association, says the country-of-origin labeling program, known as COOL, "will make everyone aware that our product is homegrown Louisiana crawfish as opposed to Chinese crawfish." Louisiana crawfish producers and processors have long complained that Chinese crawfish dealers are using unfair trade practices to flood seafood markets and undercut the value of homegrown crawfish. Many Louisiana crawfish processors have gone out of business in the last 15 years because of the "dumped" crawfish imports, 95 percent of which can be traced back to China, Savoy says. Last year, state lawmakers passed legislation making it unlawful for a Louisiana restaurant to misrepresent crawfish or shrimp as Louisiana-raised if it's not. — Jeremy Alford

Foxes Watching Henhouse?

  As billions of federal dollars are being promised for an unprecedented stimulus package and the national deficit enters trillion-dollar territory, lawmakers in the U.S. House pledge to keep a careful watch over the country's coffers. By a unanimous vote earlier this month, the House endorsed a new internal rule that will force all standing committees to periodically review topics of waste, fraud and abuse. The rule was backed by the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of conservative Democrats, and co-sponsored by Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-La. Melancon, a Democrat from Napoleonville, says House Resolution 40 opposes deficit spending, promotes fiscal responsibility and potentially could root out mismanagement. "As members of Congress, we have a responsibility to make sure taxpayer dollars are being used wisely and efficiently," says Melancon, the Blue Dog's co-chair for communications. The resolution requires each standing committee in the House to hold at least three hearings a year to watch over the agencies under its jurisdiction. Additional hearings would be called if an agency's audit has a "high-risk" disclaimer for waste, fraud, abuse or mismanagement. The Project On Government Oversight, an independent nonprofit that investigates corruption on the federal level, says Congress has to play a more active role in watching over federal agencies, and that means following up on audits and reviews. — Alford

Restoring Cameron Marsh

  As further evidence that southwest Louisiana is gaining traction in its fight against coastal erosion, the state announced last week that 2,500 acres in Cameron Parish are slated to be restored. More than $3.2 million has been cobbled together using state and federal funds as well as private donations. The promised construction project consists of building nearly 250,000 feet of marsh terraces — long, narrow ridges — to span Black Lake Marsh and the adjacent West Hackberry Marsh. The project marks renewed interest in the state's southwestern shoreline, and it's a model for how state government and private interests can work together on coastal infrastructure. Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit advocacy and conservation group, transferred a $1 million grant from the North American Wetland Conservation Act to the state to help pay for the terraces. Another $160,000 came from private donors. Once completed, the terraces will be another barrier for storm surges and other threats from the Gulf of Mexico. Garret Graves, the governor's top coastal advisor, says the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority appropriated the remaining $2.1 million to bankroll the Cameron Parish project, which also will restore and protect natural habitat for more than 10 million waterfowl that winter along the state's coastline annually. — Alford

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