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Da Winnas & Da Loozas 

For a session that started out looking like a real yawner, this year's gathering of the Louisiana Legislature wound up having its share of high drama and low comedy. Lawmakers reformed river pilot regulation but also made national headlines for a bill to ban low-riding, baggy trousers. Ultimately, Gov. Kathleen Blanco showed them all who wears the pants around the Capitol -- but the New Orleans Saints scored their biggest win with another $15 million state subsidy.

In the wake of this annual exercise in political carnage, we present our annual assessment of "Da Winnas" and "Da Loozas." This year, there's a bonus -- "Da Draws" -- because sometimes neither side wins.

And so, without further ado, let's meet ...

DA WINNAS

1. Gov. Kathleen Blanco -- The Governess made her presence felt on a wide array of issues, including river pilot pay reform, transferring power from the Orleans Parish School Board to Superintendent Tony Amato, repealing two of former Gov. Mike Foster's worst mistakes, and modest improvements in the state's ethics laws. She also shepherded through a balanced budget -- and funded the Saints deal -- without fatally cutting services or raising taxes. Not bad for a first time out, particularly after she initially presented an agenda so modest that some were wondering if she still thought she was lieutenant governor. Others may have difficulty adjusting to her style, but you can't say it didn't work.

2. LABI and Shippers -- Business interests, particularly shippers, scored a huge win by securing passage of a bill that overhauls the regulation of state-commissioned river pilots. LABI made river pilot reform its top economic-development priority, and when Blanco weighed in the effort really gained momentum. In addition, LABI had a successful two-week special session in which business, again with Blanco's help, won a pair of phased-in tax reductions.

3. Tony Amato -- The popular Orleans Public Schools superintendent gained vast powers to revamp the city's troubled school district. A politically inept majority on the School Board guaranteed passage of the bill when it tried to fire Amato in the middle of the session.

4. Car Dealers and Banks -- After decades of trying, they finally convinced lawmakers to give them "repo" authority, which means they will no longer have to go through sheriffs to repossess autos whose owners welch on loans.

5. Lobbyists -- Prodded by Blanco, lawmakers banned their own and the governor's fundraisers during legislative sessions. Lawmakers also refused to tighten disclosure requirements on those who wine and dine them (below the current $50 per official threshold), and they refused to bar lobbyists from giving them tickets to sporting or cultural events. So much for ethics reform.

6. Tom Benson -- At the outset, the state was more than $7 million short of the $15 million due under an agreement the Saints made with Mike Foster. But, on the session's last day, Blanco and lawmakers came up with a plan to get Benson the money.

7. Psychologists -- Only one other state allows some psychologists to prescribe drugs. This one passed only after Blanco's Senate President, Don Hines (himself a physician), convinced his legislative colleagues not to listen to his medical colleagues, who worked the phones fiercely against this bill.

Which brings us to ...

DA LOOZAS

1. River Pilots -- They have been a powerhouse in state government for decades, thanks to a fleet of savvy lobbyists and waves of political contributions. Then along came LABI, which made the self-regulated river pilots' large salaries ($300,000 to $500,000) and nepotism the targets of an economic-development crusade. Now pilots' salaries will be decided by a new, independent board subject to public records and open meetings laws.

2. New Orleans School Board Members -- The ruling majority on the Orleans Parish School Board got KO'd when it tried to convene hastily and fire Tony Amato. Now he holds the patronage and personnel cards. The board was already on shaky ground amid federal corruption investigations; the move on Amato sealed their legislative -- and perhaps electoral -- fate.

3. Gays -- Voters will decide whether to put a ban on same-sex marriages and civil unions into the state constitution on Sept. 18. Louisiana already has a law defining "marriage" as strictly between a man and a woman, so this proposed amendment seems more mean-spirited than substantive. Like that matters.

4. Hog-Doggers -- Legislators outlawed the violent "sporting" event in which dogs maul hogs while spectators cheer. Cockfighting, meanwhile, remains legal -- on the premise that it is part of our "culture." Go figure.

5. Citizen Mike Foster -- Two of Governor Warbucks' most cherished (at least by him) legacies -- the motorcycle helmet law repeal and the White Lake Preserve -- were undone less than six months after he left office. Safety helmets will again be required for all motorcycle riders in Louisiana, and the management of the White Lake Preserve, a $40 million marsh donated to the state by an oil company, will shift from a private board (set up by Mikey and his pals) to a public body within the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Blanco pushed both changes.

6. Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu -- Landrieu should be Blanco's heir apparent, but he angered some in her camp by appearing to continue running for another office (hers) rather than settling in and running the office he already has. Landrieu thus lost two attempts to expand his appointive power over a pair of boards under the lieutenant governor's administrative umbrella. That was a bit embarrassing for a guy who only a year ago was one of the go-to brokers in the House. Actually, he secured passage of one of those bills -- but Blanco vetoed it, adding fodder to rumors of a rift.

7. Our Children and Grandchildren -- Leges passed a plan to refinance $1.7 billion in retirement system debt to save the state and public school districts money in the short term. The measure will put $3.6 billion in interest costs on future generations of Louisianans. Someday, kids, this will all be yours.

And that brings us to ...

DA DRAWS

Anti-Cloners vs. Stem-Cell Research -- Parents with sick children (especially those with juvenile diabetes) who could benefit from stem-cell research made a potent lobby and presented a compelling case -- aided by the poignancy of Nancy Reagan's voice. Meanwhile, the Religious Right sought to ban cloning of human beings and stem-cell research. Neither side prevailed, and the debate was a modern replay of the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Pat Taylor vs. the Ogden Museum -- Taylor, a generous but often mercurial oilionnaire, tried to get the Ogden Museum totally removed from the Capital Outlay budget. He failed, after spending a ton of money on lobbyists, PR firms, lawyers and who-knows-what-else in a monumental clash of egos against the titans behind the Ogden. On the other hand, the museum's symbolic $250,000 appropriation will be held until questions about Ogden's operating expenses and signature art donation are answered.

They, and others, no doubt will be back next year.

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