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With Friends Like These
Two of New Orleans' biggest crime-fighting advocates in Washington are in hot water these days, but only one drew local fire after a recent congressional hearing at Dillard University. The head of the Louisiana Republican Party criticized Democrats on the House Committee on the Judiciary for asking veteran U.S. Rep. Bill Jefferson to testify before its subcommittee on crime -- at a time when the Democrat is the target of an ongoing FBI corruption probe. However, the visiting panel of two Republicans and one Democrat also appeared to blanche when local U.S. Attorney Jim Letten sang the praises of his embattled Republican boss, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Letten, testifying on the feds' crime-fighting role in post-Katrina New Orleans, said: "To be sure, nowhere is the serious and unwavering commitment of the federal government more evident than in the presence of the U.S. Attorney General." Gonzales has visited the city six times in the 19 months since Katrina, providing local federal law enforcement agencies with additional personnel and resources and focusing "the extraordinary efforts of the U.S. Department of Justice to rebuild the local greater New Orleans criminal justice system," Letten said. In Washington, however, Gonzales is under investigation by Congress for the alleged improper firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Like Jefferson, Gonzales says he's done nothing wrong. -- Johnson


Down on Brown
Less than six months before the Oct. 20 primary election, Louisiana's shrinking list of Democratic candidates for governor has yet another new wrinkle. The Louisiana Ethics Commission is seeking a court order against Rev. Raymond Brown of New Orleans, state chair of the Rev. Al Sharpton's Louisiana Action Network and one of only three Democrats planning to run for governor. The state ethics board on May 7 will ask a state judge in Baton Rouge to order Brown to pay $9,500 in fines for late filings of campaign finance disclosure reports in connection with his 2004 campaign for Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff, board attorney Alesia Ardoin says. "I thought we had worked out an agreement," Brown says of the ethics board issue. Not yet, Ardoin says. (She praised Brown for showing up in court last month, even though no representative of the ethics board was present and he had not been properly notified of the proceeding.) Candidates who qualify for the fall elections while still owing fines to the ethics board from previous campaigns risk hefty penalties -- and court challenges to their candidacies by the ethics board. Brown, state Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, and Lake Charles attorney Hardy Parkerson were the only Democrats campaigning for governor last week. Incumbent Kathleen Blanco, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu and former U.S. Sen. John Breaux all have opted not to run for governor this year. -- Johnson


Minor Candidate, Major Pain
With Democratic heavyweights shying away from the race for governor, the impact of long-shot candidates on Louisiana's political landscape can be underestimated, pollster Silas Lee says. "Those so-called 'minor' candidates can become significant in many ways in a very fragile electoral environment like we have here," Lee says. "Minor candidates can cause frustration to stronger candidates by peeling away their voter support." One example may be the 2002 U.S. Senate campaign of Rev. Raymond Brown, a New Orleans community activist who is mounting a grassroots campaign for governor. A blustery campaigner, Brown ran a statewide race in 2002 against U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, drawing 23,533 votes, or 2 percent of the total vote. As the only African American in the eight-candidate field, however, Brown gave voice to black voter disenchantment with Landrieu. She finished first in the primary with 46 percent and was forced into a bitter, expensive runoff with Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell. In a special election in 2004, Brown ran for Orleans Parish Criminal Sheriff. Running with little money in a 12-candidate field, Brown again captured only 2 percent of the vote, but still helped force a runoff between ultimate victor Marlin Gusman and Warren Riley, who is now the city's police chief. -- Johnson


Baker's Presidential Derby
The GOP field of presidential candidates is brimming with endorsement opportunities, but two of Louisiana's Republican congressmen remain neutral. Rep. Richard Baker of Baton Rouge is reserving judgment for now, and Rep. Bobby Jindal of Kenner, a leading candidate for governor, may stay out altogether. "The campaign I'm focused on is my campaign to bring Louisiana voters the fresh start for our state they're demanding," Jindal says. Baker, on the other hand, is expected to endorse one of the Republican contenders -- possibly later this year. Baker spokesperson Michael DiResto says his boss has taken several meetings with Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon who currently leads the fundraising battle. DiResto adds that Baker also is "very interested" in the possible candidacy of former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, a well-known television actor and a darling of the Religious Right. The two have even scheduled a face-to-face soon. Baker says he has stayed out thus far because none of the major candidates has spelled out a detailed agenda. "He feels good that he hasn't jumped out there at a time when you could see the emergence of a candidate like Fred Thompson," DiResto says. Rep. Charles Boustany of Lafayette and Sen. David Vitter of Metairie are backing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, while Congressmen Jim McCrery of Shreveport and Rodney Alexander of Quitman have endorsed Romney. -- Alford


Military Fund Musters
After two years of dragging its feet, the state is finally preparing to implement a taxpayer-supported fund for military families ("They Deserve Better," March 27, 2007). The Legislature created the Louisiana Military Family Assistance Fund in 2005 to award need-based grants to families of Louisiana National Guard and Reserve forces called to active duty since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The program also benefits Guard units tapped for natural disasters such as hurricanes. In all, more than 11,800 men and women are eligible for the program, as are their 12,000 or so dependents. A board to oversee the project was appointed earlier this year, but as of last month no one knew how much the fund held or when it might go on line. Lawmakers placed part of the blame on the state Department of Social Services, which was slow to administer the program. According to state Sen. Reggie Dupre, a Terrebonne Parish Democrat and author of the legislation, there is now $158,000 in the fund, more than a third higher than what was originally thought. Dupre adds that the state Attorney General's Office may take over the program, and funds could be disbursed to eligible families in the next few weeks. -- Alford


Animal House
Continuing with his animal-friendly legislative agenda -- he has sponsored bills on behalf of birds, snakes and hogs -- Rep. Warren Triche, a Democrat from Raceland, has filed House Bill 186 to keep certain dogs out of the hands of convicted felons. In a very public campaign, covered by local and national media, Triche passed a bill in the 2004 session to outlaw brutal fights between hogs and dogs. Many of the fights involved gambling. This year, Triche wants to make sure unscrupulous dog owners don't use their pets to endanger others. His bill would prohibit people convicted of various felonies -- from burglary and firearms to bomb-making and sex offenses -- from keeping a dog that, "when unprovoked, bites a person causing an injury." The proposed law calls for a fine of no more than $500, imprisonment for no more than six months or both. On a related note, a group called Louisiana Against Cockfighting has started a grassroots campaign to back Senate Bill 39 by Sen. Art Lentini, a Republican from Metairie who is back with his proposed cockfighting ban. With more and more Louisiana officials jumping on the anti-cockfighting bandwagon, no other state hosting the sport and Congress coming down hard on the practice, this may be the year that cockfighting finally ends. -- Alford


From Katrina to Va. Tech
A popular college therapist who helped guide Loyola University through the traumatic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina now directs the massive counseling effort at Virginia Tech, the scene last week of the deadliest one-man massacre in U.S. history. Christopher Flynn, a clinical psychologist, led Loyola's counseling and career services department for 15 years -- until Sept. 11, 2006, when he took over as director of the Cook Counseling Center at Blacksburg, Va. After a deranged student fatally shot 32 people and then himself during last week's rampage, Flynn extended Tech's counseling services to the grief-stricken at a university memorial service: "One of us is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We will meet with you individually. We will meet with you in groups. ... We will be wherever you need us." Loyola spokesperson Kristine Lelong said the school has contacted Flynn with offers of assistance. "He was definitely a loss to (Loyola)," Lelong said of Flynn. "He was well liked and highly regarded by everyone." Although displaced to Massachusetts during Katrina, Flynn managed to secure offices and computers from other universities, restoring Loyola's counseling services -- online -- within four days of the storm. After the university reopened in January 2006, Flynn warned returning students, faculty and staff that everyone could expect to feel emotionally affected by Katrina. In a Jan. 27, 2006, interview that seems prescient in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, Flynn told the Loyola Maroon student newspaper: "You don't have to experience trauma to be directly affected by it." -- Johnson


Oops! (and Ouch)
When Republican conservative Jay Dardenne was elected Secretary of State last fall, the LSU Daily Reveille student newspaper dutifully mined its archives for a profile of the school's alumnus. Turns out research for the story was based in part on an old "April Fool's" issue of the Reveille. After being fooled by its own archives, student journalists submitted their "goof" in competition for the Louisiana Press Association's annual "Oops!" award. The uncanny error evoked a roar of laughter from editors and reporters at the LPA awards luncheon in New Orleans recently. Dardenne was actually elected student government president of LSU in 1977. But the Reveille's admittedly erroneous report stated that Dardenne "proposed a bill" to spend the entire student government budget of $88,000 to rebuild his fraternity house and that a bust of Dardenne's former student opponent would be placed over the new urinals of the frat house. -- Johnson


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