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Jefferson's No-Shows
Embattled Congressman Bill Jefferson has been a no-show at most public forums for candidates seeking the Second Congressional District seat, which he has held for nearly 18 years. Despite the incumbent's absence from the public forums, most of his challengers quietly concede that he is likely to land one of the two runoff spots when the Democratic primary votes are counted on Sept. 6. In addition to not attending most public debates, Jefferson also has been absent from the airwaves thus far. Early voting begins this week for the Sept. 6 Democratic primary, and several of his opponents have bought time on local radio and TV stations. So far, however, Jefferson has flown below radar. His legal troubles clearly have impacted his fundraising efforts, but he has garnered the endorsements of local labor groups. Organized labor can provide a lot of campaign workers on and before Election Day, and that can help Jefferson deal with his shortage of campaign cash. Turnout on Sept. 6 is expected to be very low. Once again, Jefferson's prospects depend significantly on who his runoff challenger will be — assuming he makes the Oct. 4 runoff. — DuBos

 

A Bully Political Pulpit
The Louisiana Family Forum, a right-wing advocacy group that promotes faith-based issues, is dropping $250,000 this fall to bring 50,000 people to the polls. The "Ring the Bell" campaign kicked off earlier this month and eventually will complete a tour of 60 cities. The goal is to convince pastors to register 100 percent of their congregations to vote. In all, the LFF is targeting 500 independent and evangelical churches in its voter outreach program. "It is time for pastors to stand up and speak out against the forces that attempt to bully them into silence during election season," says LFF Executive Director Gene Mills. "Pastors have a responsibility to affirm moral principles in politics, despite the illegitimate outcries of "separation of church and state' from the uninformed." The LFF also has partnered with the Gerard Health Foundation, a Christian fundamentalist group that gets involved with high-profile issues such as abortion, to create a Web site (http://lafamilyforum.us/vr/) that helps people register to vote. Obviously, the goal of the registration drive is influence, a detail the new registration site doesn't gloss over. "Just imagine the impact that Bible-believing Christians could have on the direction of our government, the character of our leaders, and the health of our nation if we all functioned as the stinging salt and the shining light as Jesus intended," states a passage on the Web site. "So vote your values as a Christian." — Alford

 

Getting High Gets Harder
Some 467 new laws went into effect on Aug. 15, and most of them will impact citizens from every walk of life — even pot smokers. For instance, Act 150 by Rep. Erich E. Ponti, a Baton Rouge Republican, allows certain employers in the refining and chemical industries to lower the initial cut-off level used in marijuana testing. Under previous law, drugs tests aimed at detecting marijuana use couldn't be considered "positive" if the results were lower than 50 nanograms per milliliter. Greg Bowser of the Louisiana Chemical Association calls the change a safety precaution, saying the proposed guidelines will catch some drug users who are dodging the old screenings. "You're allowing employers to be more stringent on their drug testing policies on marijuana than they currently can," he told lawmakers during the session. — Alford

 

New Biofuel Initiative
Louisiana appears to be turning over a greener leaf. The Advanced Biofuel Industry Development Initiative officially kicked off earlier this month. It's meant to expand fuel supplies in the state without boosting dependence on foreign oil and gas. Act 382 by Rep. Jonathan W. Perry, an Abbeville Republican, is also being touted as an economic development tool for rural regions of the state and those still recovering from the 2005 hurricane season. It calls for a small network of advanced biofuel manufacturers, which in turn could create a new industry. From a national perspective, the initiative stands out because it will not rely solely on feedstock corn to create an ethanol blend. Rather, the new law is guided by a so-called "field-to-pump strategy" that will promote other feedstocks derived from crops harvested in Louisiana. For south Louisiana, that means sugar cane. There's already movement — Imperial Sugar announced in May that it will build an ethanol plant that will be operational by 2011 next to its sugar refinery in Gramercy. And the Sugar Cane Research Station in Houma is involved in joint ventures focusing on the production of biofuel. Pretty much any crop, aside from corn, can join the party — so long as it doesn't "burden local water supplies," according to the new law. The initiative also frowns upon crops that need an excessive amount of fertilizers. Specifically, Act 382 creates two pilot programs. The first calls for a blend of fuel and advanced biofuel, meaning hydrous or anhydrous ethanol from sugar or other starches, to be made through 2012. Mixtures would range from 10 percent to 85 percent. The second would put to use various fuel blends in motor vehicles during the same period, with the Department of Agriculture and Forestry overseeing the process. According to the legislation, the two pilot programs should "offer the consumer a less expensive substitute for unleaded gasoline in the form of E10, E20, E30, and E85." — Alford

 

Not-So-Capital Idea?
Last week's cover illustration, which riffed on the ubiquitous Capital One credit card tag line ('What's in your wallet?"), apparently caused a stir among the nice folks at the bank. Our story had nothing to do with Capital One, but rather a group of small HIV/AIDS nonprofits whose city funding has been so slow in coming that some of their principals have had to use their personal credit cards to keep the organizations' doors open. We thought the credit card angle made for a catchy cover illustration.

We got a very polite call from the bank's press office letting us know that Capital One actually has donated generously to HIV/AIDS causes and wondering why we used the company's name and logo to underscore a negative point. Truth be told, we didn't see the cover as a jab at Capital One, but rather an acknowledgment that the tag line has become part of popular culture. We apologize to anyone at the bank who was offended by the reference; no slight was intended.

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