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Scuttlebutt 

By Allen Johnson|Jeremy Alford

Attacking the Attackers
In recent media interviews with Lafayette television station KATC and The New York Times, Gov. Kathleen Blanco and her staff have been blaming gender bias for recent attacks. Her tears in the aftermath of Katrina, for example, became a major issue. "I'm not a guy," Blanco told the New York paper, adding she acts like a woman because she is one. Whether the bias is real --and gender-based -- or not, at least one nonprofit group believes Blanco is definitely under attack. Media Matters for America, a web-based organization that analyzes "misinformation in the media," recently posted a report that the White House has continually tried to shift blame to Blanco, despite accusations that the trail leads the other way. The report states that the trend is "well documented and included a senior administration official's false accusation -- widely repeated by the media -- that days after the August 29 hurricane made landfall in her state, Blanco had yet to declare a state of emergency." -- Alford

Wanted: Poll Commissioners
Whatever the date of New Orleans' citywide elections, Clerk of Criminal Court Kimberly Williamson Butler says citizens can help speed up voting by becoming poll commissioners. "I have over 500 commissioners," Butler says of her present strength. "Normally, we have 2,700 commissioners. We will get enough for the upcoming elections, but the more commissioners I have, the shorter the lines will be." Her office will sponsor two-hour training classes for prospective commissioners on Jan. 27 and Feb. 4. Commissioners work from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and earn $100 for each election. Butler lost half her 90-member staff after Katrina forced her office out of the courthouse and into temporary quarters at 317 Magazine St. Meanwhile, Butler says she is working with the League of Women Voters and other groups to ensure efficient elections. In addition, Butler plans to consolidate some polling places to assist residents registered to vote in storm-ravaged neighborhoods. For example, voters in Lakeview can vote at UNO, while Lower 9th Ward voters can vote at the Sanchez Community Center on Caffin Avenue. Gentilly residents can vote at Brother Martin High School, and eastern New Orleans residents can vote at the voting machine warehouse, 8870 Chef Menteur Hwy. For more information, call the clerk's office at 658-2299 or at (877) 286-6931, or e-mail clerkofcourt1@hotmail.com. -- Johnson

Clarity on Hold
"How long could it possibly take just to make a form?" asked Sen. Edwin Murray, a New Orleans Democrat. That was his question to the House Insurance Committee in November, shortly before the Legislature adopted a new law requiring insurance companies to place a cover sheet on all policies stating what is and isn't covered, such as wind, flood and mold. Murray was told by some it could take the Department of Insurance as few as 30 days, even though the bill becomes effective when it was signed by the governor. When contacted last week, a spokeswoman for the department said the one-page form is still being constructed and admitted it could possibly take several months. "It's going to be a while," says spokeswoman Bobby Ann Clark, adding the insurance industry has to be consulted and several bureaucratic hoops need to be cleared. The law passed during the last special session with policyholders hoping it would add clarity and insurers praying it would cut down on lawsuits. David Tatman, a lobbyist for the Professional Insurance Agents of Louisiana and a licensed insurance agent himself, says the new law should do just that, but it doesn't force anyone to read and follow-up on their policies. "It will be clearer for policyholders as far as what's covered, but if it isn't read, it won't do any good," he says. Of course, policyholders would actually have to see the one-page document before deciding whether to read it. -- Alford

New Times, New Poll
University of New Orleans pollster Susan Howell has scuttled her annual New Orleans "Quality of Life" survey. The survey of voters in Orleans and Jefferson parishes was a much-anticipated feature of local political life for almost 20 years -- until Katrina. "There is no point in asking questions like, 'Compared to five years ago, do you think New Orleans is a better or worse place to live -- or about the same?'" Howell says. "It's almost laughable." Howell, a political scientist, directs the UNO Survey Research Center. Meanwhile, she and two sociologists at the LSU Hurricane Center are preparing a joint "citizen recovery survey," which will ask voters to summarize their losses and their current needs. "We want to give citizens a voice in what they need from government," Howell says. Polling will begin in March and results will be released in April. The lack of residents in many neighborhoods will limit the poll to residents in the "fairly well populated" ZIP codes of Algiers, Uptown, French Quarter and the Faubourg Marigny, says Howell. Unlike prior UNO polls, the recovery survey will include non-voting residents over the age of 18. "The recovery is bigger than just a political issue," she says. -- Johnson

Romo Revs Up -- Again
Congressional elections are right around the corner and state Sen. Craig "Romo" Romero, a Republican from New Iberia, continues his quest to claim a title that he lost about two years ago when he missed the run-off in Louisiana's Third Congressional District by less than 1 percent. Since being defeated by current Democratic Congressman Charlie Melancon, Romero has not ceased his fundraising efforts. He has about $284,000 in cash on hand, according to the latest finance reports available online, which is meager compared to the incumbent's more than $700,000. Still Romero seems to be positioning himself with major GOP players. Shortly after the storm, he was criticized for circulating a flyer in Washington detailing how Rita and Katrina flushed out several Democratic bases in the Third District, which encompasses a large portion of south central and eastern Louisiana. And just last week, Romero made an aggressive media pitch for a hurricane wreckage tour he conducted with Congressman Bobby Jindal, a Metairie Republican who has long been a media darling. -- Alford

Out of the Line of Fire
Gov. Kathleen Blanco and Secretary of State Al Ater have been criticized by angry New Orleans voters demanding immediate local elections -- despite Katrina's widespread destruction to scores of local polling places. This time around, Kimberly Williamson Butler, the Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal Court and the top elections official in the city, appears happy to be out of the line of fire. On the morning of the Sept. 18, 2004, thousands of New Orleans voters, many of whom had just returned from evacuating for Hurricane Ivan, found they could not vote. More than 100 voting machines were delivered late to 59 polling places citywide. Butler ultimately accepted responsibility for the election debacle. Looking back, she manages some self-deprecating humor. "I have been through 10 or 12 elections, but people only talk about one," she says with a smile. "Experience is the best teacher -- and I have learned my lesson well." -- Johnson

Reform Momentum Gaining
Citizens who never wanted anything to do with politics continue to get involved in the process as levee board reform gains momentum in Louisiana. Brett Guidry, a Beltway-transplant via Metairie, has created www.leveereform.com, a venue for related news clips, background on reform movements and information on how the public can get involved. The software engineer has even included a list of "Saints and Sinners" -- lawmakers who voted for and against levee reform in the November special session. "I put together the site after defeat of the initial reform bill because there wasn't one, and because it appeared that publicity of the issue was likely to be the only mechanism for moving forward with a chance for reform of the levee boards," Guidry says.-- Alford

Good Things
Civic activist Keith Twitchell says he wants post-Katrina New Orleanians to have good government -- and a good time. As a spokesperson for the Committee for a Better New Orleans, Twitchell recently presented recommendations for government effectiveness to a subcommittee of the mayor's Bring New Orleans Back Commission. After the meeting, Twitchell changed "hats" to fulfill his role as spokesperson for the Krewe du Vieux, the raucous Carnival marching club. This year, the Krewe aims to poke a little fun at life in the recovering city, he says. The krewe and its many sub-krewes will march through Faubourg Marigny and the French Quarter on the night of Feb. 11, under the theme -- "C'est Levee." As captain of the Krewe of Underwear, Twitchell's sub-krewe has adapted its own theme: "Corpse of Engineers presents a Day at the Breech." Other sub-krewe themes include "Fridge Over Troubled Waters" and "Attention, K-Mart Looters!" -- Johnson

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