The race for Agriculture Commissioner doesn’t get a lot of publicity, for a number of reasons – most of what the commissioner does is out of sight of the city people, most of the down-ballot statewide races tend to fly under the radar and perhaps most importantly, there isn’t really a serious challenger to the incumbent Mike Strain, who tends to be pretty popular. So much so that a couple of years ago Strain openly talked about running for governor this year and dropped out shortly thereafter because lots of his donors pleaded with him to stay where he is.
Strain took over a department in 2008 that was bloated beyond rational belief and deeply in debt as a result of his predecessor, Democrat Bob Odom, treating it as a cross between a feudal satrapy and a communist enterprise. It owned facilities like the sugar mill in Lacassine that no American governmental entity should ever own, and it had an army of employees to do things – for example, the cabinet-makers it had on staff – that no governmental entity should employ. Strain has spent the last seven years paring that down to something that looks more like a regular government department, and he’s fairly well respected for those efforts.
But not by everybody, because one of Odom’s old minions is now running against Strain, and it’s a campaign straight out of the first Blues Brothers movie…
Charlie Greer isn’t just running around the state griping that Strain has “gutted” the Agriculture Department from the golden days when Odom had it, he even ripped off Odom’s old campaign logo. Our more veteran readers will recognize this…
And to listen to this guy talk, it’s like a walk back in time to the good ole days where the livin’ was easy in the public sector…
“When this administration came in, there was plenty of money for everybody,” said Greer, who, like Odom, has white hair and has adopted the campaign advertising motif the late agriculture commissioner had used for years. Strain doesn’t personally return calls and hasn’t spent much time cultivating legislators and industry leaders, he said.
“He’s not hustling for that money. You have to go to the Legislature and tell them what happens if they don’t fund these vital programs,” Greer added.
Greer was forest enforcement chief when he retired in 2013, meaning he went after folks who started forest fires. He’s particularly concerned about the department’s firefighting capabilities after the years of budget cuts.
“With what he has in place, an event could easily become a catastrophe,” Greer said.
Louisiana’s $108 billion forestry industry provides 45,611 jobs, and timberlands cover about half the state.
Greer said that, like the West, more Louisiana residents — particularly on the north shore and the Florida Parishes and the northern suburbs of Baton Rouge — are building homes in or near the forests.
“The situations like California, where homes get burned up, we’re there, maybe not that magnitude of numbers, but we’re in extreme drought and we’re getting more and more people moving to the quiet of the countryside,” Greer said. “He needs to do a lot more than sit there and pray for rain.”
News flash: we’re not California. California is naturally a desert and forest fires growing out of control is a naturally expected occurrence. In Louisiana it rains a lot and forests in the state are not natural tinderboxes waiting to go up in flames. That’s why having 100 or so firefighters on staff is enough to handle what comes.
There are two other candidates in the race, and it’s possible their presence might siphon off enough votes that somebody would end up in a runoff with Strain. Jamie LaBranche, who is running as a Republican, is campaigning on the idea of growing lots of plants for pharmaceutical purposes and therefore making the state a whole bunch of money, and Ace Juttner, who is running on the Green Party’s ticket, wants to legalize weed. One wonders whether either of these guys know that the Ag Commissioner isn’t a legislative seat and doesn’t control state policy, or whether they think the Department of Agriculture just ought to plant crops on its own, Cuban-style. Maybe they can entice rich liberal college students from up north to bring in the harvest as volunteers or something.
In any event, there’s Strain and there’s a host of candidates with a bit less of a commitment to limited government. Bob Odom is dead, but the mentality that allowed him to turn a relatively innocuous ministerial position into a fiefdom complete with an air force still survives on the ballot.