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Public Enemies? 

Louisiana politicians get their marks for public interest issues.

Louisiana congressmen James McCrery and Richard Baker did not cast one vote "in the public interest" in 2000, according to the annual Congressional Scorecard released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

Of Louisiana's nine congressional delegates, four voted for bills that would harm the general public more than 90 percent of time, says the nonprofit advocacy group. They include McCrery, Baker, Rep. Billy Tauzin and Rep. David Vitter, all Republicans. Louisiana's highest-scoring delegates were Rep. William Jefferson and Sen. Mary Landrieu, both Democrats.

The report studied congressional votes on 18 environmental, consumer and health bills, criticizing legislators who voted for proposals to, among other things, lower clean air and water standards, allow the transport of radioactive waste through U.S. states, and weaken consumers' ability to file bankruptcy.

PIRG's report lauded those who voted for banning "soft" money to political campaigns, placing stricter pollution restrictions on power plants, passing a Patient's Bill of Rights, and keeping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off-limits to oil and gas exploration.

Louisiana's overall score was 34.5, ten points below the national average.

"The Congressional Scorecard shows that Louisiana's politicians are not as concerned about the public interest as they should be," says Aaron Viles, PIRG's Gulf States field organizer. "Louisiana, true to course, is offering breaks and subsidies to special interests while leaving the public holding the bag. ... Whether it's in large bank fees or the dirty air we receive, we are not having our needs met, and lots of times the large campaign contributors are."

Few delegates met with the group's express approval. Of the 100 senators, three had 100 percent scores. Of the 435 House members, just 17 scored 100 percent. On the other hand, 31 senators and 17 representatives had a 0 percent score.

All 0 percent scorers were Republicans, while the 100 percent scorers, with the exception of Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., were Democrats.

Viles stresses that PIRG and its scorecard are nonpartisan. "We track the votes; we don't track the party, and there's a number of Republicans who are very good on the environment."

Conservative politicos call the PIRG report unfair. "There's that automatic impression or implication that when you don't vote the way a certain organization wants you to, it's a negative vote, or you're opposed to something like the environment. And that's just deceptive," says Charli Coon, policy analyst for energy and the environment at the Washington, D.C. conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.

"It's rhetoric, and there is no attempt to look behind the vote in terms of, 'Why did that person vote against that?' Often times, people believe maybe there is a better way of addressing the issue," Coon says.

"If you disagree with [PIRG], the perception is you don't care about the environment. That certainly isn't true. Conservatives drink water, we breathe air, we all want to make sure we have clean water and air, but we differ in how you can achieve that."

PIRG applauded Landrieu's jump to 61 percent from her 1999 score of 40 percent. Other scores were: Democratic Sen. John Breaux, 44 percent; Democratic Reps. Chris John, 20 percent, and Jefferson, 65 percent; and Republican Reps. John Cooksey, 15 percent; Baker, 0 percent; McCrery, 0 percent; Vitter, 6 percent; and Tauzin, 5 percent.

"We cover the span of what we consider the breadth of public interest," Viles says. "We haven't just looked at environmental votes. We haven't just looked at consumer votes."


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