Notes From The Legislative Races, Oct. 3 Edition

Louisiana doesn’t really have a governor’s race this year, as a recent poll indicates Bobby Jindal has a commanding 58 percent support with his next closest competitor Tara Hollis holding just nine percent (24 percent are undecided), and the Lt. Governor and Secretary of State races are Republican-vs-Republican affairs.

So for partisan drama, one has to drill all the way down to the races for the state’s 39 Senate and 105 House seats. It’s those races, after all, where the most compelling stories seem to be unfolding.

Take, for example, the tilt for the 19th District in the state senate, which is outgoing senate president Joel Chaisson’s seat. Rep. Gary Smith, the Democrat in the race, is squaring off against Republican Garrett Monti in a race the Louisiana GOP sees as its best chance to pick up a Senate seat on October 22.

Monti, who is general manager of Quality Cleaning Equipment & Supply of Boutte and the chairman of the St. Charles Republican Parish Executive Committee, is hammering Smith for what he calls his “far-left liberal policies” – and touting a plan to shrink state government and reduce taxes.

But the race will likely turn on questions of ethics, because Smith, who is term-limited in the Louisiana House, might be best known for a rather pungent episode following Hurricane Katrina in which political connections to Sen. Mary Landrieu enabled his family business to profit greatly off FEMA trailers. The Lake Charles American Press’ Jim Beam picks up the story from back in 2006…

Bourget’s, a custom motorcycle dealer in St. Rose, got a $6.4 million trailer deal shortly after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans. Though it had no license to sell trailers and no experience in the industry, it eventually sold nearly $120 million in trailers to FEMA.

Two brothers, Glen and Gary Smith, own Bourget’s. They have two political connections. Their father is Henry Smith, treasurer of the executive committee of the Louisiana Democratic Party. Gary Smith has a son, state Rep. Gary Smith Jr., D-Norco, who happens to be a member of the House Special Committee on Disaster Planning, Crisis Management, Recovery and Long-Term Revitalization.

As you would expect, established recreational vehicle dealers cried foul. And the Times-Picayune of New Orleans reported the details of the lucrative trailer deal.

“That someone can just come in who never had a license to deal and sell millions and millions worth of trailers is just appalling,” said Jim Hicks, president of the Louisiana RV Dealers Association.

The Smiths defended their contracts, saying they had worked closely with FEMA in the past.

The Recreational and Used Motor Vehicle Commission subsequently fined Bourget’s $46,000 for not having a license. In addition, the state Department of Revenue said the company owed sales taxes on the first $6.4 million in trailers it bought for resale. The tax could be as high as $500,000. Only licensed dealers are excluded from sales taxes on trailers they buy.

The company did get a trailer license Oct. 18, but it came after another deal on Sept. 17 for 6,500 units at a cost of $98 million.

Phillip Courvelle, an RV dealer on the vehicle commission, said all Louisiana dealers combined sold $136 million in travel trailers in 2004. Bourget’s came close to that just months after Katrina hit.

“This goes higher than just how this guy got his license,” Courvelle said. “There’s something dirty here, and it’s not right.”

Bourget’s contested the fine in court and won a favorable opinion. Judge Wilson Fields of the 19th Judicial District Court sided with the company.

Fields’ ruling was ultimately thrown out in circuit court for the political payoff it was, and the fine reinstated by the commission. Smith wasn’t hurt by the imbroglio when he ran for re-election in 2007, though Democrat Ram Ramachandran, a former St. Charles Parish councilman, did manage 42 percent of the vote against Smith that year. No Republican ran in District 56.

Tea Party Challenges Bedevil GOP Incumbents/Establishment Types

In a number of races Republican legislators are finding themselves enduring stiff contests courtesy of Tea Party-backed candidates, with a potential conservative shift in both houses at stake.

Among those races is the one for Senate District 38, in which incumbent Sherri Smith Cheek, who defeated conservative Alan Seabaugh in a close 53-47 race in 2007, has a tough fight against Troy Terrell this year. Cheek, criticized by many as a RINO, has a nice war chest of $128,000 on hand based on her latest filing after spending $84,000 on the race thus far, while Terrell, who was endorsed by the Tea Party of Louisiana among others, has raised about $102,000 (including $20,000 in in-kind contributions) and spent $50,000. Terrell has about $32,000 still on hand.

Cheek was helped by the dropping-out of Democrat Douglas Day, but she was hurt by the fact that Jindal, who put out a dizzying spate of endorsements in legislative races (26 of which were for Republicans in the state senate), didn’t make an endorsement in the race.

And then there’s Ticketgate. Apparently, Terrell’s people got hold of a recording of Cheek attempting to get the State Police to transport Sugar Bowl tickets to her husband, who had left them in Shreveport, shortly after the 2003 election…

The ticket situation had been reported in the Baton Rouge Advocate back in January 2004, so it’s not particularly news now. But people hate examples of state legislators pulling rank to get state government to do favors for them, so it could resonate.

In the Baton Rouge area, meanwhile, Tea Party favorite Valarie Hodges is making some waves in District 64 as she runs against attorney Barry Elkins. Elkins, co-owner of Magnolia Title Company and an associate of the Crawford Lewis law firm, was considered as the favorite in the race early on. But Hodges has picked up endorsements from the Tea Party of Louisiana and Sen. David Vitter, and the past president of the Livingston Parish Republican Women’s Club and current committee member of the Executive Committee of the Republican Party of Louisiana enjoys a 4-1 cash on hand advantage at presents ($18,000 to Elkins’ $4,500).

Jefferson House Race Gets Rough

Meanwhile, in District 85 there’s a brutal campaign going on between a pair of Republicans. Stephen Leonard, Terrytown Civic Association president, is running against Terrytown fire chief Bryan Adams. The race has gone into the gutter quickly, as a website surfaced with dirt on Adams including three bankruptcies and a foreclosure and a lawsuit alleging discrimination by Adams in his role as fire chief. And for a cherry on top, there’s a document from a divorce petition which names Adams as a “paramour” of one of the parties to the divorce.

Adams is single.

Leonard, meanwhile, made a name for himself by agitating for the abolishment of tolls on the Crescent City Connection as a primary campaign issue. He’s taken issue with the task force appointed to study the bridge’s maintenance and stated that “the tolls have become nothing more than a new way to fund political patronage and the good ol’ boy politics that have plagued our region for generations.”

Adams was regarded as the favorite in the race, which is open since incumbent Ricky Templet opted to run for the Jefferson Parish Council rather than re-election. Leonard has received the endorsements of the Jefferson Parish Republican Party and the Greater New Orleans Republicans, however. Neither candidate has a financial report on file as yet.

Lorusso-LaBruzzo Race Pits Vitter, Scalise Against Each Other

Redistricting has put a pair of fairly reliable conservative House Republicans, Nick Lorusso and John LaBruzzo, against each other in House District 94. And because of that strange race, a pair of the state’s national conservative figures are on opposite sides.

Rep. Steve Scalise endorsed LaBruzzo on Sept. 21.

“As a conservative in Congress, I know that we need conservatives at the local level to help us push for lower taxes, smaller government and less spending.  And that’s why we need John LaBruzzo,” said Scalise.  “He has a record of saving taxpayers’ money and fighting for our families. We need him now more than ever.  I hope you will join me in supporting John LaBruzzo for re-election.”

John LaBruzzo is a 3 time winner of the “Outstanding Family Advocate” award by the Louisiana Family Forum and was recently endorsed by the Greater New Orleans Republicans and the Orleans Republican Parish Executive Committee. This is similar to 888 casino where 888 casino games can be played from anywhere and UK such as this 888casino.

But this nugget from Friday on John Maginnis’ site is interesting…

Of the several legislative races between only Republicans, the redistricting-merged match between Reps. John LaBruzzo of Metairie and Nick Lorusso of New Orleans stands out.

Sen. David Vitter jumped into it last week by attending a fundraiser for Lorusso. His office said Vitter’s support for Lorusso is personal and not connected to his Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority. Yet it sends a strong message, given that LaBruzzo currently represents Vitter’s old House district.

Jindal has declined to pick a side in the race. LaBruzzo’s latest filing shows $89,000 in the bank, while Lorusso has $81,000.

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