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Breaux Under Siege
As John Breaux dodges the media and teases voters about his gubernatorial ambitions, opposition research on the storied Democrat is creeping out of the basement and into the open. Not surprisingly, the former U.S. senator's lobbying gig with D.C. heavy Patton Boggs has garnered the most intense scrutiny. Conservative operatives are circulating details of a $150,000 contract between Breaux's lobbying firm and the Peruvian government that goes into effect April Fool's Day and is supplemented by a $50,000 monthly retainer fee. On file with the Justice Department, the agreement pegs Breaux and others as lobbyists for Peru in upcoming trade negotiations. Conservative wags claim the deal pits Breaux against Louisiana commercial seafood interests and state officials, who have been fighting for years to place tariffs on imported shrimp and crawfish. Even more public is the first TV attack spot of the season -- launched against Breaux by the Louisiana GOP. "John Breaux says he might run for governor, but you won't find him in Louisiana," the ad begins. "Breaux legally changed his citizenship to Maryland. ... Here's his $3 million mansion in Maryland -- paid for by the millions Breaux earned selling his influences as a lobbyist. That's why our constitution says Breaux can't run for governor. Breaux may be wealthy and powerful but he's not above the law." The ad is a sure sign that, despite Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal's alleged big lead over Breaux in GOP polls, Jindal and his supporters see Breaux as a real threat. -- Alford

 

That Citizenship Thingy
John Breaux
's ongoing flirtation with the idea of running for governor against Gov. Kathleen Blanco, who seems dead-set on upending polls and editorials, has brought him a lot of ink from national news outlets. The fact that Breaux is registered to vote in Maryland, where he has lived for several years, is well known by now. Many have argued in recent weeks that Breaux should have maintained an address in Crowley, which would have eliminated the current constitutional issues surrounding his potential candidacy. However, Breaux's own words may hurt him most if the debate continues much longer. In a January column Breaux penned for The Hill, a Beltway must-read, he described the culture shock of transferring his residency across state lines: "Like when I went to get my first driver's license outside Louisiana, and the clerk cut up my old Louisiana license into a hundred little pieces, and I hollered with indignation, 'You cannot do that, I want to keep my Louisiana license, I'm Senator John Breaux!' and she looked at me and replied, 'Not anymore you're not.'" -- Alford

Letten: Bad Cops Not Driving Local Violence
Some veteran observers have been wondering if bad cops are behind the ramped-up violence in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. It's a theory that proved true in the 1990s, when then-NOPD cop Len Davis orchestrated the murder of a police-brutality witness and helped violent drug dealers eliminate their rivals. Local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten, whose office put Davis and his police cronies behind bars, says cop misconduct is not driving the city's nation-leading murder rate this time. "I disagree with that (theory) entirely," Letten says. Most of the homicides are random and do not necessarily involve turf wars -- even among those in the drug game," Letten adds. "These are guys shooting each other because of words, signs of disrespect, women, and even parking places. It's a cultural as well as criminal-drug phenomenon." Today's violence emanates from "a generation or two [of men] from abject poverty," he says. Updating reporters last week on a new joint crime-fighting effort by NOPD and the feds, Letten predicted, "We'll win, but it's going to be a tough, long road." -- Johnson

FBI Goes to Rock 'N' Bowl
Local FBI agents added a little New Orleans flavor to "community policing" recently, turning up at Rock 'N' Bowl to promote public cooperation with law enforcement. Clad in FBI T-shirts, two agents appeared at a SilenceIsViolence rally at the popular nightspot. The agents distributed cards urging the public to stop violent crime by calling the bureau at 816-3000. FBI Special Agent Jim Bernazzani said the unusual community outreach effort by the feds resulted in "marked success." Also at Rock 'N' Bowl that night, we're told, was former state Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown, who served a six-month prison sentence for lying to the FBI. Brown sold copies of his book and donated proceeds to SilenceIsViolence, the community group that has emerged as an anti-crime and anti-violence force since the Jan. 11 march on City Hall. -- Johnson

Do I Really Need to Be Here?
Legislative staffers last week presented to a special committee on term limits the results of a study of the relative ineffectiveness of interim meetings and study resolutions. In short, the findings revealed that lawmakers' activities outside of a normal session are largely a waste of time. DUH! Committee members did embrace a few ideas to make the otherwise useless functions more relevant, though. Staffers have been ordered to investigate how other states make the most of lawmakers' down time and recommend fixes. One immediate change could be to hold real committee hearings on the road, votes and all, rather than town hall-type meetings. "People are just intimidated to come down here sometimes," says Rep. Gary Smith, Democrat from Norco. "We should make more of an effort to go outside the building and really open up the conversation." Legislators also might want to look at the numerous study resolutions they approve each session. In most cases, study resolutions arise from legislation that was shot down. The studies are a consolation prize, really, and staffers say they often reflect politics rather than informed policy. Rep. Jim Tucker, a Republican from Terrytown, suggests that lawmakers could institute a wink-and-smile system. "Maybe we can tell y'all which ones are real and which ones are friendly fire," he says. For now, lawmakers will continue to walk that fine line between fluff and occasional substance. -- Alford

DA Appeals Dismissal
Prosecutors in Orleans Parish District Attorney Eddie Jordan's office are appealing a judge's ruling in a 2000 murder case that put their boss on the witness stand and allowed an accused killer to remain free on bond. Criminal Court Judge Lynda Van Davis last week quashed a second-degree murder indictment against Rudy Francis, 53. After two days of testimony by the DA himself, the judge tossed the case and blamed Jordan's office for blowing a legal deadline for retrying Francis after a 2004 mistrial. Van Davis said state law allowed the DA only one year to retry the case from March 8, 2005 -- the date prosecutors announced they would retry Francis for the shooting death of Larry Darnell Lawrence, 43. Prosecutors claim they have at least until June to retry Francis. They say the judge's ruling fails to recognize provisions of the law that restart the legal time clock, including disruptions caused by Hurricane Katrina. Jury trials did not resume at the flood-damaged courthouse until June 2006, extending the one-year deadline until June 2007. Donna Andrieu, chief of appeals for Jordan's office, predicts the judge's ruling will be reversed on appeal in a case many expect to be decided by the Louisiana Supreme Court. Since Jordan took office in January 2003, his office has won "at least 98 percent" of its appeals of trial court rulings, said Andrieu. Jordan predecessor Harry Connick enjoyed similar success with such cases. -- Johnson

Irene Chetta's Legacy
Pioneering New Orleans policewoman Irene Chetta, 86, died last month, but her legacy as the first woman officer appointed from a civil service register is alive and well, statistics indicate. Women accounted for 251 of 1,395 officers on the NOPD as of Jan. 31 -- more than 18 percent of the force, says Stephanie Landry, NOPD director of personnel. NOPD's women exceed the national average of 13 percent, according to the National Center for Women in Policing. In addition, the percentage of women at NOPD surpasses that of the local FBI office, where women account for 23 of the 159 local agents -- roughly 15 percent. Five of the NOPD's 32 captains are women, the highest rank held by women on the force. NOPD Chief Warren Riley recently promoted Capt. Heather Kouts, who also is president of Police Officer Women of Every Rank (POWER), a police association. In 2004, POWER honored Chetta for her police career, which began in 1950. She was buried Feb. 15 with full police honors that included, ironically, an all-male NOPD honor guard. Visitors at her wake noted she never lived to see a female chief at NOPD, but a family friend recited an old maxim with a hopeful tone: "A woman's work is never done." -- Johnson

The Daycare Debate
A national study of child-care centers released earlier this month placed Louisiana near the bottom in standards and oversight. The study, "We Can Do Better," was conducted by the Virginia-based National Association of Child Care Resources and Referral Agencies, a group that sets voluntary national standards. Idaho's centers ranked lowest overall, one spot below Louisiana's. There were a few bright spots, such as praise for the state's licensing system for day-care centers, but the study also found much to be desired. "While no one is pleased to see such a low overall ranking, we hope parents in Louisiana and other residents will appreciate our efforts to turn around the situation," says Sherry Guarisco, director of child care and early childhood education at the Department of Social Services. The state recently launched a new Quality Rating System and there are proposed changes to the upper tier of licensed child-care centers. The upcoming legislative session may see new proposals as well. The issue is one that traditionally attracts parents and activists to the Legislature, and the latest study will be a rallying point for their cause. -- Alford

Numbers Crunch
The Institute for Southern Studies, an activist group that promotes social and economic change, has issued a study that concludes what many locals already know -- that the region is still in crisis 18 months after the 2005 storm season. The study calls for bold action from Congress on a number of "fundamental barriers" ranging from a dearth of affordable housing to overburdened schools and a crippled health-care system. The 14-page report inventories more than 30 practical policy steps, but its statistical data speaks louder than anything else -- significant overcharges, wasteful spending or mismanagement from 19 Katrina contracts with a total worth of $8.75 billion; $1 billion in excessive costs from cleanup contracts worth $500,000 or more that were awarded with little or no competition; and fewer than 100 Louisiana homeowners have received federal rebuilding aid. -- Alford

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