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From their lips to your ears

Slow Year Off to Fast Start

The year 2009 was supposed to be slow in terms of elections, but already there are signs it will be busier than expected. No "big" elections (i.e., mayor, governor, Congress or U.S. Senate) are scheduled for next year, but several special elections for lesser but still very important offices are set for April 4 — and some of them are shaping up to be hotly contested. Chalk up at least some of it to the domino effect. State Rep. J.P. Morrell won a special election on Dec. 6 for the state Senate, creating a vacancy in House District 97, and Traffic Court Judge Paul Bonin won a seat on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in October, opening up a seat at Traffic Court. In addition, New Orleans Juvenile Judge C. Hearn Taylor has retired, creating a vacancy on that bench. Meanwhile, Jefferson Parish will have four matters on the April 4 ballot. District 5 Councilmember Jennifer Sneed abruptly retired from politics in August, creating a vacancy on the council, and School Board Member Ellen Kovach's election as district judge has opened a spot on the school board. Two tax propositions also will be on the Jefferson Parish ballot that day — a new quarter-cent sales tax for public safety and renewal of a millage for transit. Qualifying for the April 4 elections will be Feb. 11-13 — fewer than two weeks before Mardi Gras. Runoffs, if needed, will be May 2 — the second week of Jazz Fest. — Clancy DuBos

Lakeview Brawl Looming

The April 4 special election for Traffic Court judge could see a war between two prominent Lakeview political families — and the fighting could divide the normally solid bloc of Lakeview votes in that contest. Attorney Mark Shea, son of longtime Municipal Court Judge John Shea and the brother of former City Councilman Scott Shea, has declared his intention to run, and Assistant City Attorney Joe Landry, a nine-year city prosecutor in Municipal and Traffic courts, is likewise expected to run. Both men live in Lakeview and both come from large, politically active families. Shea, 50, has a private law practice and previously worked for the Indigent Defender program. Landry, 52, has served as a prosecutor in Traffic and Municipal courts for almost nine years. Both men are said to be lining up significant political, civic and neighborhood support. Other names that have been mentioned as potential candidates include state Rep. Charmaine Marchand and attorney Tracey Flemings-Davillier. Flemings-Davillier, who ran unsuccessfully for Municipal Court last year, says she is weighing her options. Efforts to reach Marchand were unsuccessful as of press time. — DuBos

Surplus Dollars Tagged For Conservation

Despite dire warnings from Gov. Bobby Jindal about Louisiana's "worsening revenue outlook," his top financial advisor says there will be money available from the state's anticipated budget surplus for coastal restoration efforts. It's estimated that state government is sitting on a surplus of roughly $865 million from the 2007-08 fiscal year, which ended in June. Under the Louisiana Constitution, those dollars can only be used for one-time expenses such as debt retirement, coastal restoration efforts and certain infrastructure projects. Commissioner of Administration Angele Davis told the Coastal Protection and Restoration Financing Corporation that Jindal is committed to building on the $1.1 billion he has already directed to the coast through previous surpluses and budget allocations. "We do anticipate that we will be able to provide some funding once again to coastal restoration activities through the surplus funding," Davis says. Lawmakers and the administration are expected to reach a final agreement on the latest surplus during the regular session that begins in April. If surplus money does materialize for the coast, it's possible it won't be assigned to a specific project right away. In August, the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority finally agreed on how to spend the $300 million surplus from the 2007 budget. The CPRA, the state's leading coastal board, could also play a key role in allocating the latest surplus. — Jeremy Alford

Landrieu's Clout Grows

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu's appointment as chair of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee reflects a spike in her influence on Capitol Hill. Landrieu already was chairing a subcommittee of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and sitting on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Bolstered by my seats on other key committees for our state, this assignment provides the seniority to fight even harder for Louisiana's more than 350,000 small businesses," Landrieu says. While serving on the small business committee, Landrieu has nurtured ties to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and taken a lead role in disaster recovery legislation. She also met with President-elect Barack Obama recently to "emphasize the importance of American small businesses to the economic recovery of the nation and any community affected by future disasters." As chair of the Small Business panel, Landrieu replaces Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, who now chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a prepared statement, Kerry said small businesses should feel "proud" to have Landrieu at the helm. — Alford

Coastal Degree Among First

The state's flagship university, although anchored in the capital city, is expanding its reach in the area of coastal processes, wetland ecology and hurricane research by offering one of the very few undergraduate degrees in coastal environmental science available nationwide. The new curriculum at LSU relies on the collective research and teaching expertise of more than 45 faculty members in marine and environmental sciences. It will be a Bachelor of Science degree beginning next year. It's also a sign that LSU wants to be at the forefront of an expected wave of engineers, researchers, biologists and others who could soon be flocking to Louisiana for wetlands-related work. Some believe an influx of talent has already begun as the state is preparing to spend up to $100 billion to implement its master plan for coastal restoration, hurricane protection and flood control. Scott Angelle, secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, has called the developing trend a "brain-train" into Louisiana, a play on the so-called "brain drain" the Bayou State has experienced with the out-migration of well-educated professionals. The state is also increasing its participation in climate and environmental research, fisheries depletions, Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, and hurricane recovery. Expertise is likewise increasingly needed to study and understand the impact of human activities on coastal community resilience, says Jaye E. Cable, director of the new program at LSU. "The goal of the program is to build capacity within Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region for addressing environmental issues, particularly those issues related to the large industrial corridor of the Mississippi River and its deltas, and to global climatic change-related sea level rise effects on coastal areas," she says. — Alford

Correction

In "New DA's First Fundraiser (Scuttlebutt, Dec. 16), we incorrectly stated that U.S. Attorney Jim Letten attended new DA Leon Cannizzaro's first post-election fundraiser. Letten did not attend. He told Gambit Weekly his policy is not to attend political fundraisers even when invited as a guest. Gambit Weekly regrets the error.

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