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Beyond New Hampshire
Louisiana's presidential primaries and caucuses suddenly have a chance at relevance. After Hillary Clinton's victory over U.S. Sen. Barack Obama in New Hampshire last week, some national pundits were hinting that the nation may not know who the presidential nominees will be even after 17 states hold primaries Feb. 5 or Super Tuesday (a/k/a Fat Tuesday in New Orleans). A longer campaign would be good news for Louisiana, which has the first party primaries after Super Tuesday " on Saturday, Feb. 9. The Louisiana GOP will hold caucuses on Jan. 22 to select delegates to a Feb. 16 convention, which in turn will pick delegates to the national convention. 'I can't speak for the Democrats, but we'll actually be fairly relevant," says Roger Villere, state GOP chair. 'We're flying under radar of the national media, but not for the candidates." The Republican primary is a meaningless 'beauty contest," Villere says, whereas 47 GOP delegates are at stake in the Jan. 22 caucuses and Feb. 16 convention. New Orleans Republican activist Scott Sewell is leading the charge for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and former New Orleans City Councilman Bryan Wagner is organizing for Sen. John McCain. The dark horse is Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. Any Republican registered as of Nov. 30 can vote in the caucus. " -Johnson

Ominous Audience
An ominous audience of five prison inmates sat in the jury box of a federal courtroom last week as Jacques Morial, 46, political strategist, activist and brother of former Mayor Marc Morial, admitted failing to file federal income tax returns for three consecutive years, albeit unintentionally. 'I never, at any time, tried to defraud the government [but] I have been a procrastinator all of my life," Jacques Morial told U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon before she imposed his sentence in the misdemeanor tax case. The five inmates, who were waiting their own turns before the judge, alternately listened intently " or impassively " as Morial apologized to his family, church and those he urged to become involved community affairs. 'My failure to file undercuts my credibility," he said. Defense attorney Pat Fanning said Morial paid the overdue taxes he owed for 2001-04 a month before IRS agents raided his French Quarter home. Prosecutor James Mann did not object to Fanning's request for probation, and the judge sentenced Morial to three years probation, including six months of home detention, but no fines. He faced a maximum sentence of one year in prison and $250,000 in fines. Marc Morial who heads the National Urban League civil rights organization, based in New York City, did not attend his brother's sentencing. " Johnson

Legislation With Heart
The American Heart Association has had an aggressive legislative agenda in Louisiana in recent years, and 2008 should be no different. The association is coming off a huge win, having banned smoking from most Louisiana restaurants last year. A similar effort is being launched in Texas with a goal of implementation in 2009, says Terri R. Broussard, AHA's regional advocacy director. In Louisiana, the organization may be forced to play defense. AHA is interested in increasing tobacco prevention dollars in Louisiana, but it finds itself in more of a watchdog role these days. 'We plan to defend any attempts to weaken Act 815," the smoking ban, Broussard says. Louisiana's Smoke-Free Air Act has been on the books for roughly one year, and small pockets of businesses around the state are already complaining about decreases in sales. AHA also is monitoring the state's plan to sell off the remaining portion of its 1998 tobacco settlement for a pile of up-front dollars. 'We also will oppose any attempts to securitize the settlement dollars," Broussard says. The state constitution dedicates proceeds from the proposed sale to education, health care and coastal restoration efforts, but AHA argues that it should fund health programs. " Alford

New Lords of Fishes, Beasts
The state board that regulates hunting, fishing and conservation issues voted unanimously last week to install Opelousas attorney Patrick Morrow as its new chairman and Robert Samanie of Houma as its vice-chairman. The leadership roles on the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission are high-profile positions that are regularly lobbied by lawmakers, hunters, anglers, businesses and environmentalists. The commission can set and cancel dates for hunting and fishing seasons, oversee the distribution of certain funds, implement conservation programs, and handle a variety of other duties imposed by the Louisiana Constitution. State law likewise calls for the panel to be comprised of an equal balance of representation from commercial and recreational interests. Morrow, who grew up in Arnaudville, is an at-large appointee who promises to put conservation first. 'I have been an avid hunter and fisherman all of my life and want to ensure that our wildlife and aquatic life " our renewable resources " will be available to all future generations," he says. A respected trial lawyer, Morrow's background is mostly in recreational causes. He is a sponsor of Ducks Unlimited, Delta Waterfowl and the Cajun Becasse chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society. As the new vice-chairman, Samanie assumes a position that traditionally leads to the top spot on the commission. If history is any indicator, Samanie has a better shot than most to become chairman in January of 2009. On the commission, he represents commercial fishing and fur interests and is the former president of both the American Shrimp Processors Association and the Dulac Bassmasters Club. On management issues, Samanie says, 'All elements of the commercial industry should be polled, and their opinions taken into account, but the final decisions must be based on science. Likewise, recreational interests must understand their responsibility to steward the resources, and seek state assistance with that goal in a fair way that respects the rights of all." " Alford

Wanted: Crime Psychic
Local, state and federal criminal justice officials gathered at City Hall last week to celebrate the 93 percent conviction rate of the Violent Offenders Unit in the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office. Asked who could predict when violent crime would come down, all eyes turned to Police Chief Warren Riley, who said, 'To make a prediction, you'd probably need to talk to a psychic on that. But what we're going to do is to continue to reduce crime as much as we can." In 1996, former NOPD Chief Richard Pennington set the bar for violent-crime reduction when he accurately predicted he would cut the city's nation-leading homicide rate in half within three years. Murders dropped to 162 in 1999 and the city had more than 450,000 people then. In 2007, the city recorded 209 murders, with NOPD's preferred population estimate of 311,000. Domestic killings accounted for about 'eight or nine" of those murders, says Riley. Even before Katrina, the chief had been widely praised by domestic violence experts for launching police efforts to reduce spousal violence. " Johnson

Treatment Falling Short
Violent crimes get the headlines but they constitute a minority of cases at Criminal District Court. More than half the courts' dockets are filled with drug cases. Last week, experts at two nonprofit drug-treatment centers said there were 226 treatment beds available for the city's drug addicts, a population estimated at more than 10,000. Another 104 additional beds will be available within four months, says Kevin Gardere of Bridge House, but New Orleans will still be far short of the drug rehabilitation services it needs. 'If you really wanted to have a big impact, you need 1,000 treatment beds and enough outpatient treatment services for about 10,000 people" for a 'full continuum of care," says Ed Carlson, a spokesperson for Odyssey House. Greg Rusovich, chair of the New Orleans Crime Coalition, says the group is seeking federal funding for more drug rehab services. " Johnson

 

Hustling Delegates
The deadline to run for delegate to the Louisiana Republican Convention was last week, but few presidential contenders made a push to line up supporters. By all indications, that list was confined to U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. McCain did a meet-and-greet at the Camelot Club in Baton Rouge last month, where handlers were able to get a bit of in-person delegate work done. Romney's campaign launched a mass email drive this week that reached out to conservative voters to run as delegates. 'Would you have any interest?" writes Alan Philip, Romney's regional political director. 'If so, kindly send me a quick e-mail and I'll get you information about how to run to be delegate." The state GOP has created a convoluted process: Delegates to the state convention will elect national delegates, who will in turn cast nomination votes at the national convention. But, unless one GOP candidate garners 50 percent of Louisiana's vote in February, the delegates will not be committed to any particular candidate. " Alford


History of Missing Out
In recent presidential election cycles, Louisiana primaries have fallen in March, when the national nominees for both parties were no longer in doubt. In the March 9, 2004, primary, Louisiana Democrats gave 70 percent of their vote to the eventual nominee, U.S. Sen. John Kerry. Sen. John Edwards won 17 percent; Howard Dean, 5 percent; Wesley Clark, 4 percent; Bill McGaughey, 2 percent; and Lyndon Larouche Jr. , 1 percent. GOP voters cast 96 percent of their ballots to re-elect President George W. Bush; Bill Wyatt got the remaining 4 percent. Edwards launched his 2008 presidential campaign in the flood-damaged Lower Ninth Ward. He is now running third behind Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton going into the Michigan primary on Tuesday (Jan. 15). In the March 14, 2000, Louisiana presidential primary, 73 percent of the state's Democratic vote went to then-Vice President Al Gore, the eventual nominee; Sen. Bill Bradley got 20 percent; Lyndon LaRouche Jr. , 4 percent; and Randy Crow, 3 percent. Among GOP voters, 84 percent cast ballots for George W. Bush. Sen. John McCain took second place with 9 percent; Alan Keyes got 6 percent; Steve Forbes and Gary Bauer each received 1 percent. " Johnson Morial Checks Could Pay Court Fees U.S. District Judge Mary Ann Vial Lemmon's sentence of three years probation for Jacques Morial includes six months of home detention and $225 in court fees " $75 each for each of his three admitted tax violations. Morial could pay those fees easily by filing a claim for at least $355 in individual insurance policy benefits, bank dividends, interest bonds, and other 'unclaimed property" held in his name by the Louisiana Department of Treasury, according to the state Web site. One of the checks dates to 1986, when Morial was active as an investment bond counselor. Morial's unclaimed property was publicized long before he pleaded guilty Sept. 25 to failure to file federal income taxes for three years. The day after his sentencing late last week, the outstanding checks for the Democratic political strategist remained in the custody of state Treasurer John Kennedy, a Republican, according to a spokesperson for the office. At his sentencing, Morial admitted to a lifetime of 'procrastination." " Johnson

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