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No Shortage of Opponents
Indicted Congressman Bill Jefferson is not expected to go on trial for bribery until after qualifying opens July 9 for the federal party primaries on Sept. 6 — but friends and foes alike are eyeing his seat. The friends include state Reps. Cedric Richmond and Juan Lafonta. Richmond has served in the state House since 1999; Lafonta, since 2005. State Rep. Karen Carter-Peterson, who lost a runoff to Jefferson in 2006, will host a $1,200-per-person "congressional fundraiser" at 6 p.m. next Thursday (May 29) at Morton's Steakhouse in New Orleans, says Carter publicist Cheron Brylski. Other Jefferson opponents include Jefferson Parish Councilman Byron L. Lee and former WDSU-TV morning anchor Helena Moreno. Lee has hired the PR firm of Katz & Columbus, while veteran media consultant Jim Carvin and his daughter, Karen Carvin, will manage Lee's campaign. Moreno also has assembled a campaign team, says media consultant Greg Buisson. That team includes pollster Ed Renwick as well as campaign coordinators Craig Mitchell and Bill Allerton. As a journalist, Moreno registered as an Independent, but she will run as a Democrat in the party primary, Buisson says. She will make an official announcement in July, while Lee has not yet pegged an announcement date. Meanwhile, a publicist for indicted state Sen. Derrick Shepherd of Marrero dismissed rumors that Shepherd will run for the seat again; Shepherd finished third in the 2006 race. — Johnson


Seven-Week Countdown
Don't look now, but qualifying for all candidates in the fall elections begins seven weeks from this Tuesday (May 20). The re-introduction of the closed party primary system (for federal elections only) has moved campaign timetables for state races up from the traditional late August qualifying dates to July 9-11. In another change, the primaries for Congress and the U.S. Senate will be earlier than open primaries for judgeships, district attorneys and public school boards. The closed party primaries for Congress and the U.S. Senate will be Sept. 6. Party runoffs for the federal contests are scheduled for Oct. 4 — the same date as the open primaries for local elections. Winners of the federal party primaries will face off on presidential Election Day, Nov. 4, which also is the runoff date for local contests such as DA, judge and school board. For a complete election schedule (including early voting dates), visit the secretary of state's Web site at http://www.400.sos.louisiana.gov/elections/calendar-2008-elections.pdf. — Johnson

 

Got Money?
By now, any "serious" candidate for public office in the fall elections should have both money and a campaign organization together, says veteran campaign consultant Ron Nabonne. "The first thing is money," says Nabonne, who added that he had not signed on to advise any campaign by press time. "It is extremely expensive to run for office." It's even tougher for judicial candidates, who must put together campaign committees because they are barred from asking for or handling money directly. He says candidates for Congress will need a minimum of $300,000 to $500,000. Race, party and presidential politics also will affect campaign dynamics in Louisiana this year, says Nabonne, an African American who has advised black and white candidates across the metro area. "If you are a candidate who cannot attract black votes for a nonfederal office, you want to win Oct. 4 and avoid a runoff on Nov. 4," he says. "In November, Mary Landrieu and the Democratic Party will have money and organization on the streets." — Johnson

 

Blame the Parents
If a lawmaker from Lincoln Parish has his way, parents will pay for their kids' habitual tardiness at public schools. House Bill 1133 by Rep. Hollis Downs, R-Ruston, would label an elementary school student as habitually tardy after the fifth unexcused absence, but only if parents take no corrective action. At that point, a judge could fine the parents up to $250 or impose a maximum 30-day prison sentence. The penalties would apply "after all reasonable efforts" by school officials fail. Downs says tardy students not only interrupt their classmates but also fall behind on valuable hours of instruction. That's why some schools are beginning to open spillover rooms for late students rather than disrupt an ongoing class, he adds. His bill would partner parish school boards with DAs' offices for enforcement. Andy Shealy, an assistant DA in Lincoln Parish, says the penalties aren't extreme. "This type of problem occurs every day in every classroom in every school district throughout our state," he says. Shealy adds that all cases would be prosecuted in juvenile court and all records would remain confidential. Last year, the same bill by Downs died on the Senate floor during the session's final hour because of time constraints. — Alford

 

Crime's 'Tipping Point'
"This summer will be the 'tipping point' for crime in post-Katrina New Orleans," says crime expert Peter Scharf, who starts work as a research professor of public health at Tulane University on June 1. Scharf says there is little doubt that the city's crime-fighting strategy is failing to stem violent crime. Crime cameras have not been installed — or don't work — and NOPD's "community policing" initiative has "languished." After the recent retirement of local FBI Special Agent in Charge James Bernazzani, Scharf says, citizens wonder if city leaders and law enforcement have what it takes to reverse crime trends. The professor dismisses calls to retain 300 Louisiana National Guard troops, saying there is little evidence the Guard has helped curtail the murder rate. "The National Guard has become a substitute for thinking clearly about the violent crime solution," Scharf says. He calls for a "coherent" citywide plan involving housing, education, early childhood intervention and policing strategies. Otherwise, he says, "We will need an occupying army to maintain order." Scharf also says Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent mental health crisis do not adequately explain the persistent violence. — Johnson

 

Where Ya Got Dem Shrimp
If a diner asks, restaurants would have to reveal the origin of their crawfish and shrimp under a bill approved by the House last week. Rep. Fred Mills, D-St. Martinville, handed out "Ask Before You Eat" buttons on the House floor before his colleagues approved his House Bill 266. "It's time we start asking what we eat," he says. Restaurant owners and employees would have to be honest in verbal exchanges as well as on any signs or menus. Eateries can voluntarily post signs, alter their menus or advertise that they offer Louisiana crawfish or shrimp, but if they lie they face stiff penalties under Mills' legislation. Lawmakers removed the threat of jail from the bill, but violators would still face a $50 fine for the first offense and a $250 penalty for the second. Subsequent fines would be $500 each. The bill now heads to the Senate. — Alford

 

Political Odd Couple
New Orleans is a city that is "fond of its own self-portrait," Adam Nossiter of The New York Times noted in a post-Katrina dispatch. Locals hungering for first impressions from "new" New Orleans residents James Carville and Mary Matalin may have to wait until later this week. The politically charged couple (he's a Clinton Democrat; she's a Bush Republican) served as co-commencement speakers for Tulane graduation exercises at the Superdome over the weekend. Tulane spokesperson Mike Strecker says it is too early to tell if transcripts of the couple's remarks will be posted on the university Web site (www.grads.tulane.edu/speaker.html), along with previous commencement speakers such as former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush (2006) and author Michael Lewis (2005). Married with two young daughters, the couple is famous for splitting along party lines, but their decision to move to New Orleans recently has buoyed locals. Carville is a Louisiana-born CNN commentator who advised Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. Matalin is the former host of CNN's Crossfire who held senior positions in George H. W. Bush's 1988 campaign and served as an assistant to President George W. Bush and counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. — Johnson

 

The Old College Try
The Louisiana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Tuesday (May 20) in the lawsuit challenging Tulane University's post-Katrina decision to merge Newcomb College with other campus institutions. Renee Seblatnigg, president of The Future of Newcomb College, a group of alums seeking to preserve the school, says both the trial court and the state Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal erred in rulings favoring Tulane. "The High Court has an opportunity to right this wrong" by reopening Newcomb and requiring Tulane to return a $41 million endowment, Seblatnigg says. However, eight national governing bodies of higher education have filed "friend of the court" briefs in support of Tulane, arguing that there is a "longstanding precedent" allowing American colleges and universities to administer their endowments. Tulane spokesperson Mike Strecker adds: "The higher education community vehemently opposes an extraordinary proposal by the plaintiffs to seize control of the Newcomb endowment and assign it to a committee of overseers chosen by the plaintiffs." The courthouse at 400 Royal St. opens to the public at 8:30 a.m., though the Newcomb case may not be heard until 10:30 a.m., says court spokesperson Valerie Willard. — Johnson

 

Workforce Money
Needed Gov. Bobby Jindal's workforce development plan is still being rolled out. House Concurrent Resolution 65 seeks to reconfigure funding for Louisiana's community and technical colleges, which are being placed on the front lines of Jindal's plan to train the state's emerging labor market. Joe May, president of the state's community and technical college system, says Louisiana has more than 100,000 vacant jobs and that everything is in place for his colleges to fill those jobs — except for the money. "We're looking at how to solve that problem, and the community and technical college system is seeking to be charged with that responsibility," May adds. The House has endorsed the idea of an increase, the size of which is yet to be determined. The resolution requests that the Board of Regents consider various factors to calculate an adequate increase. — Alford

 

Law School Tuition Rising
The House Education Committee recently gave an easy green light to LSU and Southern University to increase tuition and fees for their respective law schools. Chancellors at both institutions want to dole out more scholarships, and for good reason. The number of prospective law school applicants taking the LSAT statewide is down 30 percent. Opponents of the bill wonder how raising tuition will boost enrollment, but there are other reasons for the request as well. Jack Weiss, chancellor of LSU's Paul M. Hebert Law Center, says there is a dire need in Baton Rouge for a law clinic, which offers students hands-on legal experience. "We're the only major law school in the South without a clinic," Weiss says. House Bill 1145 by Rep. Franklin J. Foil, R-Baton Rouge, would increase tuition at LSU by $500 during the first year, then by $1,000 and finally by $1,500 in year three. House Bill 1314 by Rep. Michael Jackson, D-Baton Rouge, would raise tuition at Southern by $500 annually during a three-year period. — Alford

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