Rainy Days and Sunday
The first shots in the 2003 elections for governor and the legislature may be fired this weekend. In a vote that could return to haunt them in the fall elections, legislators will cast ballots by 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, on a proposal by Gov. Mike Foster to tap the state's "rainy day fund" for $86.4 million. Foster wants to use about one-third of the fund's $263 million to offset an anticipated revenue shortfall of $86 million. Whatever lawmakers decide, their ballots will be made public at an official count beginning at noon, Sunday, Nov. 24, on the ground floor of the state capitol. "This is not a secret ballot," says House spokesperson Sheila McCant with a laugh.
Two-thirds of the members of each chamber must approve Foster's plan for any money to be used from the fund, which was created during Foster's administration in 1998. To win approval, Foster must get 70 votes in the House and 26 votes in the Senate. State Senate President John Hainkel, R-New Orleans, has predicted the measure will pass the upper chamber overwhelmingly.
The rainy day plan faces a closer vote in the House. Observers in the lower chamber say two votes to watch will be "lame-duck" representatives Jay McCallum, D-Farmerville, and Charles Riddle III, D-Marksville. Both Riddle and McCallum were recently elected to state judgeships in the fall elections. The ballots they cast this weekend may be their last major votes as members of the House.
The governor's plan has received the admittedly reluctant support of the Public Affairs Research Council (PAR), a private think tank. The proposal has received sharp criticism by fiscal conservatives and some newspapers. Opponents of the plan say the governor and lawmakers should instead now make the tough cuts, citing years of major spending increases and the preservation of wasteful programs, such as multi-million dollar "slush" funds for urban and rural lawmakers.
Proponents argue that without relief from the rainy day fund, officials must make disproportionate cuts to the state health care system. Such cuts would cause the state to lose a three-to-one match in federal health care funding -- or more than $200 million, PAR President Jim Brandt says. A new law that allows the governor and legislators to spread the pain of budget cuts beyond health care and education does not take effect until after the New Year. Foster's proposal marks the first attempt to tap the fund, which can be used only every two years.
Lose a Connick, Keep a Connick
New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick leaves office after nearly three decades on Jan. 12. However, the retiring district attorney's nephew, Paul Connick, is settling in for a second six-year term as district attorney of neighboring Jefferson Parish. Paul Connick was automatically re-elected prior to the fall elections when he failed to draw opposition for the Oct. 5 primary. As of Sept. 1, he had more than $355,000 in the bank for future campaigns, records show.
In October 1996, however, Paul Connick was in a bloody run-off election for DA against attorney Jack Capella, who finished first in the tough Sept. 21, 1996 primary election with 39 percent of the vote. Connick followed, with 34 percent; rounding out the field were lawyer Fred Heebe with 24 percent and then-Harahan Mayor Provino "Vinny" Mosca with 3 percent. "We were in a lot better shape this time than we were last time," Paul Connick recalled recently. "I had a record to run on this time."
Connick's campaign spent $1.2 million for his first election in '96. This time, as an incumbent, Connick raised more than $400,000 and spent $69,440 of that amount for the challenge that never came. His biggest single expense was $13,800 for polling by Ed Renwick.
Meanwhile, Capella donated $2,500 to Franz Zibilich's campaign to replace outgoing Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick; Zibilich finished fourth in the Oct. 5 primary. Mosca was elected Oct. 5 to one of five seats on the Harahan City Council.
Anne Thompson, a two-time candidate for governor who once ran for Congress, describes herself as a conservative Republican. She also is an unabashed friend and supporter of former Democratic Gov. Edwin Edwards, who is now serving 10 years in federal prison on racketeering charges.
"I try to support him by writing him in prison," says Thompson, who ran for governor in 1991, when a crowded field led to Edwards' runoff victory over white supremacist David Duke. "I have written him twice."
In one letter, she said, she sent Edwards a opposition campaign flier from the Orleans Parish district attorney's race used against Eddie Jordan -- who as local U.S. Attorney sent EWE to prison. Thompson says the flier contained a reference to state Sen. Cleo Fields, who was caught on videotape by the FBI stuffing his pockets with cash he accepted from EWE. Jordan decided not to indict Fields, a fact Jordan's opponent used against Jordan.
"I thought [Edwards] would get a kick out of that," Thompson said of the flier. "I told him he was still a force in Louisiana politics."
Thompson, a college professor, says Edwards replied last week with a form letter that included a personal note at the bottom. "He says he gets 30 to 40 letters a day," Thompson says. "He hopes to answer them personally when he gets better organized. He did say the letters are what makes things bearable. ... I don't know how he affords to respond to all those letters if he makes only 9 cents an hour mowing grass." (Edwards' prison mailing address: Edwin Edwards, Federal Medical Center, #03128-095, 3150 Horton Rd., Ft. Worth, Texas, 76119-5996.)
Thompson says she attended hearings at the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal on Edwards' appeals from his May 2000 conviction for fraud and racketeering in connection with the riverboat corruption trials. She attended all three of EWE's federal racketeering trials.
"When I ran for governor in 1991, he called me his favorite opponent," she says. After Edwards beat Duke, she recalls, he invited all his former opponents -- except Duke and former Gov. Buddy Roemer -- to dine at the Governor's Mansion. There, he told the former candidates: "You all told the people you were going to be eating or living in the Mansion after the campaign, so I want to help you keep your promise."
"I have a picture of him serving banana pudding to me, Fred Dent and Kathleen Blanco," says Thompson, referring to two other candidates in the race.
Thompson ran for Congress in 1992 and finished second in a field of six candidates to Republican stalwart Bob Livingston. She made a second run for governor in '95, but says she has no plans to run next fall. "You could write a book or build a house in the length of time it takes to run a campaign," she says.