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Demos Ready if Vitter Quits
Was it wishful thinking or preparing for the inevitable? Democratic politicos in Baton Rouge and New Orleans last week were eagerly drawing up -- and crossing out -- names of potential nominees that Gov. Kathleen Blanco could appoint to replace David Vitter should the embattled U.S. senator resign over a mushrooming sex and prostitution scandal. In fact, state Democratic Party officials last week began floating the name of Blanco ally David Voelker, a Republican appointee to the Louisiana Recovery Authority and a contributor to President Bush's campaigns, one capitol source said. Also high on the unofficial "list" of possible candidates to replace Vitter were three Democrats: Congressman Charles Melancon and two African-Americans, New Orleans Clerk of Civil Court Dale Atkins, a longtime Blanco ally, and Baton Rouge Mayor "Kip" Holden. Ruled out as "too problematic" were the names of Democratic Party stalwarts John Breaux and Donna Brazile, neither of whom live in Louisiana, and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who is often at odds with Blanco. -- Johnson

 

More Than a Political Wife
Much of the "wall-to-wall" news media coverage last week about the prostitution scandal involving U.S. Sen. David Vitter depicted his spouse as little more than a political wife. In truth, Wendy Baldwin was a state prosecutor who rose through the ranks to become "one of the best" chiefs of the trials division for Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick, according to Zully Jiminez, the retired communications director for the former DA. Baldwin, a graduate of Tulane Law School, worked as a prosecutor from May 1986 to January 1992. A retired New Orleans police investigator assigned to the DA's office depicted Baldwin as a supervisor who became a stabilizing force in an office of ambitious prosecutors. "She was fair to everybody," the ex-cop recalled. Baldwin and Vitter married while Vitter was lawyering at the local firm of Feingerts and Kelly; Baldwin was still at the DA's office. Jiminez, who attended the wedding, predicts the Vitters will survive the media firestorm. "Wendy's strong, Wendy's smart, and Wendy's loving. They'll work out their problems," she says. -- Johnson

 

Legislative Bargains
Gov. Kathleen Blanco last week signed into law legislation that allows term-limited lawmakers to buy, at a depreciated cost, their used office equipment and other supplies that initially were paid for with state money. The law allows the low-cost purchases whether lawmakers leave their current offices to retire or to run for another office. Senate Bill 150 by Sen. Robert Barham, an Oak Ridge Republican, lets outgoing lawmakers purchase from the state "certain furniture and equipment." Presently, lawmakers are allotted $2,000 in taxpayer money to purchase office furniture and other equipment for their district offices. Additionally, for each subsequent term a lawmaker is re-elected, another $500 is granted for similar purchases. Once acquired by lawmakers, the items become the property of the Senate or House. Barham's legislation permits lawmakers, upon termination of their service, to purchase computers, file cabinets, couches, desks and the like at their depreciated cost. -- Alford

 

Brown's Report, Riley's Plan
After securing pay raises and special bonuses for cops last week, New Orleans Police Chief Warren Riley this week is expected to announce a strategic plan for the troubled NOPD. Riley's new blueprint is based on a management study by criminal justice consultant Lee Brown. The study, which Riley and Mayor Ray Nagin announced the same week as the Jan. 11 citizens march on City Hall, is not expected to be made public. Texas State University criminologist Peter Scharf, who has studied NOPD for more than a decade, said "open disclosure" is essential to building public support for Riley's plan. As a precedent, he cited public support for the 1996 reform plan developed by the Linder/Maple Group of New York, which also was funded by the Police Foundation and adopted by then Police Chief Richard Pennington. Scharf also warns that the department has a long history of resisting recommendations by outside experts. "When an externally created strategic plan collides with the political realities of New Orleans, strange things can happen," Scharf says. "A limited hangout in terms of the assessment is simply not acceptable. A transparent and objective assessment of NOPD is required for the public to understand the foundation of a strategic proposal." Sources say Lee's preliminary findings were dismal and probably reflect the fact that NOPD has been in a rebuilding mode since Katrina. Riley and some 50 NOPD commanders received the preliminary findings during a two-day retreat last month, before the chief left for an FBI-sponsored training trip to Norway. If there was any good news announced at the retreat, Riley managed to keep it from being "leaked" to the news media, which is no easy feat at NOPD. -- Johnson

 

One More 'No Growth' Group
This has been a banner year for special interest groups in Louisiana, where nonprofit advocates have sprouted to stump for roads, ethics, economic development and more. Last week, the local chapter of Americans For Prosperity entered the policy fray. It has chapters in 18 other states and focuses on grassroots efforts to restrain government growth. Considering the $3 billion surplus that lawmakers just spent, spokesperson Jason Hebert says the new group will have plenty of fodder. Depending on its initial success, the group could develop into the kind of watchdog Louisiana has lacked -- one that uses media antics such as pork-barrel bus tours to sites of wasteful spending. Looking forward to the upcoming elections, Hebert says the group "will seek to have some influence," but couldn't comment on what if any money AFP might sink into local contests. When asked about all the other special interests flooding the field this year, Hebert says he doesn't consider his group a competitor to other organizations. "We have a detailed approach and plan to organize on a grassroots level," he says. State Rep. Steve Scalise, a Republican from Harahan, chairs the groups advisory council. The inclusion of Scalise and Hebert, who once chaired the Louisiana campaign for President George W. Bush, telegraphs the group's philosophical bent. -- Alford

 

Aiming for the Upper Chamber
It's a maxim of the Louisiana Legislature that "the campaign begins when the session ends." Since the latest session concluded June 28, several Senate campaigns for the fall elections have begun to take shape. In Senate District 6, incumbent Julie Quinn of Metairie can expect a rematch of her bitter battle with state Rep. Diane Winston, R-Covington. Former New Orleans mayoral contender Virginia Boulet has been approached by state Democrats, who are conducting polls for her. Orleans Parish School Board member Una Anderson, the Democrats' choice for the seat vacated by the death of GOP stalwart John Hainkel several years ago, is running for House District 95 in the fall elections. In Senate District 7, incumbent Sen. Francis Heitmeier is term limited. Potential candidates for that seat include his brother, David Heitmeier, former Plaquemines Parish president and former state Rep. Benny Roussell and former New Orleans City Attorney Charles Rice. Term-limited Sen. Chris Ullo will vacate the Senate District 8 seat, and thus far former House Speaker John Alario, who is term-limited, has drawn no opponent in his bid to move to the Upper Chamber. In Senate District 9, term-limited incumbent Ken Hollis is said to be eyeing a race for the Public Service Commission against fellow Republican Jay Blossman. Meanwhile, the race for the District 9 Senate seat could pit state Rep. Steve Scalise, a term-limited member of the House, against former Jefferson Parish School Board member Polly Thomas, who ran against Hollis in 2003. The Senate District 10 seat is being vacated by term-limited Sen. Art Lentini. In that race, term-limited state Rep. Danny Martiny may draw at least one opponent -- Mike Zito, who retired as Kenner's fire chief July 31, 2006. -- Johnson

 

Global Warming, Cold Shoulder
Despite four ozone advisories issued by the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for the Baton Rouge area during the recent legislative session, global warming never became a hot topic for lawmakers, according to the DEQ Web site. The state had a multibillion-dollar surplus, but environmentalists failed to push legislation for light rail, mass transit or other pro-environmental transportation proposals, says Russell Henderson, a New Orleans lobbyist for liberal and progressive groups. "Global warming is not an issue as far as transportation in Louisiana is concerned," he adds. Henderson does not fault the state Department of Transportation and Development -- at least, not exclusively -- for failing to address the issue. "I blame the environmental groups and the rest of us [liberals] for not being there on transportation issues," he says. Louisiana ranks ninth in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. -- Johnson

 

Environmental Report Cards
Coming Mary Lee Orr, executive director of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, a coalition of environmental groups, said LEAN this week will release its report card on the recently concluded legislative session. Lawmakers will be graded as a body (not as individuals) on key environmental bills. On another note, Orr said LEAN will ask the 2008 Legislature to require industry to start reporting harmful "greenhouse gas" emissions. "About 20 other states have the same reporting requirements, so it's not a radical idea," Orr says. Orr could not provide a cost estimate to industry for the proposed requirement. -- Johnson

 

Saints' Jackson Still On Defense
One of the more recognizable faces on the Department of Social Services "Most Wanted List" is that of retired NFL linebacker Rickey Jackson, a Super Bowl champion and New Orleans Saints Hall of Famer. Jackson also is the non-custodial Louisiana parent owing the most in back child support -- roughly $153,000, DSS contends. There are 18 individuals on the list, which has been made into a poster, and they owe children in Louisiana a combined $759,000. The poster identifies each person by photograph, name, age, occupation, number of children, last known address and amount owed. It's an aggressive approach and, because it's on-line (www.dss.state.la.us/departments/ofs/LA_Delinquent_Payors.html), information on some 60,000 deadbeat parents is available worldwide. The idea is to shame them into paying, much like the Web site of the Louisiana Department of Revenue for tardy taxpayers. Robbie Endris, director of the DSS program, says the method is harsh, but adds that the money is owed to children. "We consider dissemination of this poster to be a community service and an aid in public awareness that could help lead to recovery of these funds," she says. Endris asks anyone knowing or suspecting the whereabouts of non-payers to notify the authorities. All tips will remain confidential. To report the suspected whereabouts of a delinquent parent, call (225) 342-4780 or e-mail the information to the DSS Webmaster from the home page of www.dss.state.la.us. Endris adds that parents listed on the Web site and the poster may have already paid some or all of the amounts past due by the time this publication hits newsstands. -- Alford

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