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Curious timing
Mayor Ray Nagin is not known for his close ties with state lawmakers, but he gets points for his annual legislative party next to the Governor's Mansion. This year, the shindig is much earlier than usual -- this Tuesday (April 11), as opposed to the usual late May or early June date. Sources speculate that this year's timing may reflect the fact that displaced New Orleans voters in Baton Rouge and elsewhere can start casting absentee ballots this week, thereby giving hizzoner a chance to campaign and schmooze at the same time. Another curious bit of timing -- and partnering -- is the fact Nagin's party typically follows a city-sponsored luncheon hosted in the Pentagon office of Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu, who now is Nagin's chief opponent in the April 22 primary. Well, this year, the luncheon host is ... Landrieu again. Did the two rivals bury the hatchet for the sake of the city, or did Nagin's staff not notice who their boss's luncheon host will be? -- DuBos

Cheerleader-in-Chief
Mayor Nagin's impromptu pep rally at the reopening of the riverside Wal-Mart seemed strange enough on its own, and in case you missed it, here's what happened: After a half-hour of listening to Wal-Mart execs lead their "associates" (translation: employees) in Chamber-type cheers, Nagin took the podium before a crowd of about 200 people. "We are doing the things necessary to bring back this city and this region," Nagin said. "We're gonna be OK. We are OK." Hizzoner lamented the media's preoccupation with bad news, then smiled widely and asked Wal-Mart to repeat a cheer he composed for reporters covering his campaign: "Press!" the mayor laughed. "We want to see some positive news!" The employees echoed the mayor's cheer. "Press!" Nagin smiled. "Stop being de-pressed!" The crowd repeated the chant. The ceremony ended. Nagin stepped off the stage, laughing mischievously as reporters waited to interview him, presumably on one of the many depressing topics facing City Hall. -- Johnson


Spinning TOPS
Supporters of the TOPS program are circling the wagons as lawmakers begin to consider bills that would change -- some dramatically -- Louisiana's Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). The scholarship program helps qualified Louisiana high school students pay tuition at state universities. Joseph Savoie, the commissioner of higher education and a TOPS supporter, points to higher access rates for college, student readiness and other factors. "These results should be weighed heavily by the Legislature when considering any potential changes to TOPS," he says. Republican lawmakers have taken up the cause, claiming some bills "undermine" what should be a real priority. "The TOPS program goes a long way to ensure that the best and brightest for Louisiana's future stay right here at home -- something we plan to fight for," the delegation declared in a recent release. Some lawmakers want to add additional requirements to TOPS, while others want to turn it into a loan forgiveness program. The issue could be one of the big sleeper debates of the session. -- Alford


Ethics Board v. Demos
Demopac, the fundraising arm of Louisiana's Democratic Party, is appealing a $1,500 late fee assessed by the Louisiana Ethics Commission. Demopac was 34 days late in filing a campaign finance report detailing its contributions to Orleans Parish School Board member Una Anderson in her unsuccessful bid for a state Senate seat last summer, according to Alesia Ardoin, an attorney for the ethics board. Demopac is appealing the fine. A hearing is set for Thursday (April 13) at the ethics board's headquarters in Baton Rouge. -- Johnson


Occupational Hazards

Not everything being debated by the Legislature this year pertains to insurers, lawyers or contractors. For instance, House Bill 93 by Rep. Tom McVea, a Republican from Jackson, would make it easier for out-of-state dentists to be licensed in Louisiana. For anyone who has ever pulled a nail out of a flat tire, House Bill 111 by Rep. Juan LaFonta, a New Orleans Democrat, requires roofers to use special magnets to pick up discarded roofing nails. House Bill 176 by Rep. Bodi White, a Denham Springs Republican, increases fees for licensed plumbers by as much as $50. And for those seeking extreme makeovers, House Bill 501 by Rep. Gil Pinac, a Democrat from Crowley, would require any interior design business operating under a fictitious name to obtain a $300 certificate from the state Board of Examiners of Interior Designers. -- Alford


Lawyer: "Be Heard"
Absentee voting instructions posted on the Secretary of State's Web site for New Orleans' April 22 primary can be confusing, says displaced attorney Eusi Phillips, 27, now living in Houston with his family. And the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters has no Web site. So, Phillips says, he started the "Be Heard Campaign," a nonpartisan, self-financed Web-based voter information drive (www.beheardcampaign.org). The site is devoid of rhetoric, concise with facts, and clear in purpose. "It was designed to help anyone who could fall through the cracks," Phillips says. The site features absentee ballot request forms that displaced New Orleanians can download and fax or mail to the Secretary of State. Phillips has sent 20,000 of the forms to volunteer coordinators for distribution to displaced New Orleanians throughout the South. The deadline for absentee balloting is April 21. Phillips, whose Broadmoor home was flooded by Katrina, says he and his family plan to return to New Orleans "permanently" in the coming weeks -- as soon his wife gives birth to their second child. -- Johnson


NOPD's Trailer Park
New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley says NOPD's latest temporary headquarters is a collection of FEMA trailers at the old brake tag station off North Jefferson Davis Parkway. NOPD moved out of the Royal Sonesta hotel on Bourbon Street on March 22. "Hopefully, within the next 60 days, we will be in a permanent headquarters," Riley says. NOPD's old building at 715 S. Broad St. was damaged by Katrina's floodwaters, and police officials are reviewing several alternate sites for a permanent headquarters. Our sources say one site under consideration is a building in eastern New Orleans that escaped serious flood damage. The company that owns the building reportedly wants to donate the structure to the cops, but transfer talks are idling because of dispute between the company and the city over another matter. -- Johnson


Double-Duty Do-Gooder
Dr. James Peltier began his final board term last week as chairman of the Public Affairs Research Council, a nonprofit public policy group based in Baton Rouge. While certainly prestigious on its own, the designation is even sweeter for Peltier because he is the only living state resident to serve in the same capacity at both PAR and the Council for a Better Louisiana, a similar group. A retired oral surgeon, Peltier, 75, says he has had a lifelong love for public policy, but not necessarily politics. "PAR does a lot of research and that can be the catalyst for good government," Peltier says. "But if something does go awry or bad, we will blow the whistle." He says his goals heading out of office include overseeing a capital campaign for an "unprecedented" health-care study and helping PAR recover from a loss of dues and other revenues resulting from last year's hurricanes. "The dues were seriously impacted, but we are still functioning pretty well and have learned to adapt," he says. -- Alford

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