On your mark ...
Which potential candidate for governor will get credit for upping Louisiana's share of offshore royalties? Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat, is threatening to oppose an Aug. 16 sale of federal offshore drilling rights, and a lawyer with expertise in that area has been brought on board in anticipation of a possible legal challenge. Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal convinced the U.S. House Resources Committee to approve his bill last week to give Louisiana a 75 percent share of royalties from the outer continental shelf (i.e., 50 to 100 miles offshore). The issue is an old one in Louisiana politics, but it promises to receive new life in next year's gubernatorial election as both of the early frontrunners are preparing to run as champions of Louisiana's interests. For now, they are being civil toward one another -- Blanco put out a presser last week stating she was "encouraged" by Jindal's efforts. It's estimated that the state loses 24 square miles of coastal land annually from the encroaching Gulf of Mexico, and the price tag exceeds $14 billion for a 30-year fix. One solution is getting more offshore royalty money from the feds, but getting it won't be easy. States such as New Mexico get upwards of 50 percent of the oil and gas revenues they send to the federal government. Louisiana alone continues to lose out on billions because of its three-mile offshore boundary. Although Louisiana helps generate more than $5 billion a year for the federal treasury from offshore drilling, it gets back only about $39 million a year. -- Alford
Blanco: Nowhere to Go But Up
Speaking of the upcoming gubernatorial race, Blanco just got wind of her most recent poll numbers from SurveyUSA, which is funded by a consortium of media organizations. According to the poll, she hasn't rebounded yet -- at least not noticeably -- as a result of her successes in the just-ended legislative session. Based on 600 interviews completed on June 15, the governor earned a 39 percent approval rating, which is up from the 34 percent rating she received in a similar poll back in November. Still, the numbers are a far cry from the lofty 55 percent support she booked in May 2005. -- Alford Can FBI Probe Help? Dr. Pearson Cross, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, has an interesting take on the ongoing federal bribery investigation of Congressman William Jefferson. Even though Jefferson, a New Orleans Democrat, lost his seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee and is in the crosshairs of the FBI, Cross told the Cybercast News Service that the congressman's reputation might not be permanently damaged. "Oftentimes, being an embattled Louisiana politician can actually be a benefit," Cross says. "If anything, I think voters in the state's 2nd District are going to see him as put upon, that he was unfairly stripped, and I'm certain he's going to spin it that way." Cross goes on to say, "Getting accused of corruption or bribery or incompetence or just about anything else in Louisiana has never been a bar to holding office -- or returning to office. ... We've had lots of incidents where people have been convicted, and if they're not forced to leave office by the nature of their crime, then they're just re-elected." Who knows? Maybe someone will reprise a familiar bumper sticker: "Vote for the crook -- it's important." -- Alford
A Break for Jamila
After a week of stinging FBI allegations that her father wanted to involve her in a bribery scheme, Jamila E. Jefferson, daughter of U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, got some good news from the Louisiana Ethics Commission. The ethics board agreed to waive all but $100 of the $1,000 fine it levied against her for filing a campaign finance report 11 days late in connection with her short-lived race for Orleans Parish Clerk of Criminal District Court. She will not even have to pay the remaining $100 if she complies with the state Campaign Finance Disclosure Act in the future, ethics board staff attorney Alesia Ardoin says. In a letter to the board dated May 10, Jefferson said she qualified for the office March 3, but withdrew a week later, after raising -- then returning -- a total of $2,400 from 15 donors. (Her campaign report listed only $225 in personal funds.) Further, she said, her name was not placed on the ballot. A Harvard-trained attorney who also managed her sister Jalila Jefferson's campaign for state representative in 2002, Jamila Jefferson acknowledged that she "mistakenly believed that I had taken all reasonable steps to remove myself from my campaign." She asked the board to waive the entire $1,000 fine initially levied against her because "the payment would be made from personal funds, imposing a further personal financial burden on my family and me." Nearly one month later, on June 5, an FBI affidavit was unsealed in Maryland and alleged that her father committed bribery and other crimes during two West African telecommunications deals aimed at funneling ill-gotten gains to his family. The congressman has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged. -- Johnson
Nagin Keeps (Forman's) Campaign Promise
The mass murder of five teenagers June 17 shocked and angered the city. But Mayor Ray Nagin's response -- asking Gov. Kathleen Blanco to send in the National Guard to help police cope with growing violence -- was no less stunning. During his recent re-election campaign, Nagin never hinted he was considering such a drastic measure, even though his police chief now says the request for Guard troops was first made in March. At the time, Nagin was in the middle of a campaign for the April 22 primary. In fact, Audubon Institute CEO Ron Forman then was the only major candidate to suggest bringing back the Guard after its Katrina mission ended Jan. 1. "If I'm mayor, and it doesn't get better soon, I'm going to get the governor's cooperation to bring the National Guard back in town," Forman told Gambit Weekly in an April 5 interview. Forman repeated his pledge in a televised forum that same week. Nagin emphasized support for Police Chief Warren Riley at the forum. "We need help from state government," the mayor said, but he was referring to millions of dollars in proposed state relief to rebuild the local criminal justice system. Forman finished third in the primary, but candidates often borrow each other's ideas. -- Johnson
Who called the Guard first?
It may be insider baseball to New Orleans outsiders, but just who issued the historic call for the National Guard last week remains unclear. Was it Mayor Ray Nagin, Police Chief Warren Riley -- or Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose, the paper's popular Pulitzer Prize finalist. Thousands of National Guard troops arrived to help restore order after Katrina struck Aug. 29 but left by Jan. 1. Crime quickly returned, many citizens say, despite NOPD's denials. On June 9, the T-P's Rose penned a piece headlined: "Call Out the Guard." After the massacre of five teens June 17, Nagin told the crowded City Council Chamber that Chief Riley had asked Gov. Kathleen Blanco for 60 State Police troopers two weeks before the killings of the five teens. Nagin then told the crowd, including mothers of the slain teens, that he himself had asked a Guard commander for 250 troops to assist NOPD. "These requests are in and the governor is reviewing them," Nagin said. Hours later, Blanco said she had already received the city's request for Guard troops two weeks earlier. The Guard was scheduled for deployment July 1, but would be sent the next day, she said. After Blanco's announcement, Riley told reporters he had requested Guard troops in March in anticipation of traditional increases in summer crime. Whoever called the Guard, 100 military police arrived at a Convention Center parking lot, followed by 60 state troopers -- and, later, a five-day supply of MREs. "The thing (deployment) came across so fast, the logistics haven't caught up with us yet," Guard spokesperson Lt. Col. Pete Schneider told Gambit Weekly. -- Johnson
N.Y. Times Scolds Nagin
Congress has cleared the way for billions of dollars in hurricane relief, but almost 10 months after Hurricane Katrina, Mayor Ray Nagin still has not come up with a redevelopment plan for the city. In a blistering editorial last week titled, "The New Orleans Muddle," The New York Times opined that the mayor should have told residents months ago where rebuilding will be encouraged and which neighborhoods will receive fewer city services. And Nagin's call last week for the National Guard to help with crime "does not bolster our confidence the city will be able to govern itself," the paper states. The editorial continued, "If there is one individual who needs to step up more than any other, it is Mayor Nagin. His city needs a leader more than a politician in this difficult time. ... His legacy will rest not on how many people like him, but on the effectiveness of the reconstruction and the safety and well-being of residents in the years to come." It's time for the mayor "to speak difficult truths" and tell New Orleanians where and when they should rebuild, the editorial concludes. "They deserve answers. They have waited long enough." -- Johnson
The return of the Louisiana National Guard last week to New Orleans turned out to be bittersweet for Staff Sgt. Carlos Sanchez, a veteran of the Kosovo war and one of Gambit Weekly's New Orleanians of the Year for 2004. ("Citizen Soldiers," Jan. 5, 2005.) Sanchez was stationed at Jackson Barracks, a historic Guard facility in the Lower Ninth Ward, when we first met him over the Christmas holidays in 2004 -- and he was still posted there when Katrina struck on Aug. 29. "I was at Jackson Barracks when it became flooded," says Sanchez. "We were air-evacued to the Superdome." Until returning to the city with 100 military police, Sanchez had been based with a Guard unit at Carville. Last week, he and the other Guardsmen spent their first night at Jackson Barracks, which has been vacant since the storm. -- Johnson