Now Scott Angelle Is Running For The PSC After All – And What That Might Mean

This morning the Baton Rouge Business Report had the story that Secretary of Natural Resources Scott Angelle is running for the District 2 Public Service Commission seat being vacated by Jimmy Field’s retirement…

A day after announcing his resignation as secretary of the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources—a position held more than eight years—Scott Angelle this morning confirms to Daily Report that he’s entering the race for the Public Service Commission District 2 seat.

“Obviously, I’ve chosen to devote much of my adult life to public service, and I think there’s an opportunity for me to expand my role. On the PSC, I believe I can bring about more opportunities to create an environment that is conducive to creating jobs and growing our economy,” says Angelle, a Republican. “I am confident I can do more good for the people of Louisiana.”

Angelle’s announcement also comes a day after Baton Rouge Republican Rep. Erich Ponti announced his candidacy for the PSC seat that’s being vacated by Jimmy Field, who is retiring at the end of his fifth term on Dec. 31.

Ponti says he has approximately $280,000 in ready cash for the race, close to $170,000 of which he has raised since early June. Angelle has even more in his war chest—about $336,000, he says, all of which is left over from previous campaigns.

“Today I really begin my fundraising efforts, because I definitely did not want to spend any of my time fundraising while I was secretary,” he says. “I look to have a very, very robust campaign fundraising drive over the next 45 days.”

Angelle’s interest in that PSC seat has been well-documented; back on June 7 the Lafayette Independent had this item

“I will say I am visiting with my family this weekend and would be looking to make an announcement sooner rather than later,” the Breaux Bridge native says. “I feel very confident at this point, but I need to visit with my family.”

Angelle says he’s attracted to the post because the work of the PSC can be critical in directing the overall economy. “I would say this much — that I fundamentally believe that since we’ve had six recessions since 1972 and all of them can be traced to high energy prices, that I have a passion for what I call the three Es: energy, economy and environment,” he says. “And I believe the PSC operates at the intersection of those three and that a highly functioning PSC can help improve the quality of life for all people in Louisiana.”

It’s always a slippery slope when politicians complain about high energy prices, which are the fuel for South Louisiana’s oil and gas economy, but Angelle says there is no question that inflated prices can also drag down the local economy. “I think we all saw in 2008 when we had extraordinary energy prices we all felt it here. There is a balance,” Angelle says, noting that even energy officials acknowledge that there is a point where high prices are more destructive than beneficial for the area’s overall economy.

But despite lots of noise at that point about a potential Angelle-for-PSC campaign, nothing happened. Maybe things weren’t tied down on the home front – Angelle has five kids in private school, which means he’s got to weigh decisions on his political future with care – or maybe it wasn’t felt that the timing was right for a campaign announcement.

Because what happened in early June was the brouhaha over the state’s Alternative Fuels Vehicle Tax Credit, in which the state’s revenue secretary Cynthia Bridges went off the reservation to interpret a law intended to promote the use of natural gas as a transportation fuel to include dozens of models of flex-fuel vehicles. That happened in late April, but no one seemed to know about it until just after the state legislature wrapped up its 2012 session – and while the hole in the budget turned out to be about a million dollars after Bridges was cashiered for her budgetary sin, at the time it was expected to do a lot more damage than that as the state’s accountants advised their clients to take advantage of thousands of dollars in free money. Figures like $100 million were thrown around.

And as Jindal’s legislative liaison, Angelle did get a little dirt on him from the affair

A spokesman for Gov. Bobby Jindal has said the governor didn’t know of the tax credit expansion until mid-June. But internal Department of Revenue emails show that Jindal aide Scott Angelle was told by one of his employees about the rule governing the alternative fuel tax credit — which greatly expanded the list of eligible vehicles — on May 1, the day after it was issued by the agency.

The emails show that the true cost of the credit expansion is not yet known and imply that then-Revenue Secretary Cynthia Bridges may have been pushed out of her job because of the contentious issue.

Angelle, the governor’s natural resources secretary and chief legislative lobbyist, was on a May 1 email list with three others, including an official with General Motors and a lobbyist at the Louisiana Capitol, giving them the link to the regulations governing the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit.

“I am passing this information along since I’m aware of your keen interest in the matter,” Isaac Jackson, Angelle’s general counsel at the natural resources department, wrote in the email, which was then forwarded to a revenue department employee.

In a statement issued through a spokesman, Angelle said he doesn’t remember receiving or reading the email. “I wasn’t aware of any previous correspondence. I first became aware of the emergency rule on June 14 when notified by a legislator,” he said.

…and questions were asked about why Angelle wasn’t huddling with legislators about tightening up the tax credit while there was time to do so…

One would expect the governor’s legislative liaison to have run across the matter much sooner than he had, and at least have been onto it when he received the e-mail message from his subordinate. Three possibilities present themselves to explain the scenario that unfolded. The least likely is that Angelle knew what was going on, told Jindal’s office whose staffers then flubbed the matter. This seems quite far-fetched as the political importance of the matter was obvious – with fiscal problems afoot, no one would want to damage the top man’s political standing and exacerbate budget problems by sitting on such information. Discounting this, interpretations of what unfolded become a political problem of their own for Angelle.

Another possibility is that Angelle, presumably to enhance his own future political standing at Jindal’s expense by embarrassing the governor with this. Perhaps Angelle may seek the Senate seat of incumbent Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014 where Jindal might be a rival. But there’s good reason to think Jindal has little interest in serving in the Senate, and such a crass move would alienate Jindal’s support network that can be unleashed for the benefit of a candidate. It’s dubious that Angelle would risk this over a contingency of extreme remoteness against his boss and ally, who had him at one time serving as the interim lieutenant governor and is a logical choice to get his backing if he were to run to succeed Jindal as governor.

The final possibility is the very likely one – Angelle simply was not attentive. This can turn out mortifying if Angelle does pursue a Senate seat or statewide office, where opponents can question his competence in office as a result of the incident. It’s not a crippling blow to a candidacy, but nonetheless an inconvenience.

Given all that, and given that June was still somewhat early to declare candidacy for a race qualifying for which wouldn’t happen until next week, it’s smart politics to lay low and let the tax-credit issue die down.

But this thing is going to be a lot more interesting than just about Angelle’s job-hopping – his landing a seat on the LSU Board of Supervisors on Tuesday and then purportedly announcing a run for the PSC today is something of a whirlwind of activity – or the tax credit deal, though both of those will certainly make their way into the campaign.

Because while the standard narrative is that Ponti and Angelle are both Jindal allies, Ponti isn’t Jindal’s guy in this race. He’s carried legislation for Jindal in the House, but in the last year for some reason Jindal’s camp has lost interest in Ponti – or that’s what we were told. At one point Ponti was bucking for a chance to be Speaker of the House, but that job ended up going to Chuck Kleckley.

We were also told this race is a proxy fight between David Vitter and Bobby Jindal, but in checking that out it doesn’t particularly appear to be true at this point. Angelle is without question a Bobby Jindal guy, and there are people in Jindal’s camp who see him as a future standard-bearer for Jindal’s political team in 2015; the PSC job is a place he can park while he grooms himself for a gubernatorial run. But Ponti has as many ties to Jindal as he does to Vitter; he might be more properly described as a construction industry guy (he’s a contractor) than a Vitter guy.

There are all kinds of stories being told at this point, and some of them might actually be true.

It has all the hallmarks of an interesting race – and by interesting, we mean a blood-on-the-floor, nobody-gets-out-alive and if-somebody-doesn’t-get-kicked-in-the-nuts-on-live-TV-before-it’s-over kind of race.

After all, Ed Roy is the third candidate in the race who nobody gives a chance to win. But Ed Roy owns a detective agency. He knows private investigators by the dozen. And if nobody gives him much of a chance to win, then he at least gets to play the role of Kim Jong Il hanging out in North Korea with nuclear weapons pointed at everybody else.

And in a blood-on-the-floor race, that might be as good as a chunk of cash or a high name recognition.

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